Friday, July 25, 2014

Comic shop comics: July 9- 23

Afterlife With Archie #6 (Archie Comics) This issue takes a break from the goings-on in Riverdale to check in with Sabrina The Teenage Witch, who accidentally kicked-off the whole zombie apocalypse thing when she tried to use black magic to resurrect Jughead's dead dog, Hot Dog.

Where has she been all this time? Well, she and some other characters with familiar names—familiar from the pages of H.P. Lovecraft's fiction, not from previous Archie comics—are in an asylum of sorts run by "Dr. Lovecraft," who artist Francesco Francavilla draws to exactly resemble his namesake.

I'm often a little leery of using Lovecraft mythology in comics and other media simply because it's been done so much before, and it generally needs an incredibly clever twist to justify taking another trip to that particular well. I think the logic here is a little fuzzy too, as it assumes a world in which the real Lovecraft was a fictional character like Sabrina, and his creations were all as real as he and Sabrina. Or, put another way, it imagines a world without H.P. Lovecraft, and then puts Lovecraft in it...?

At any rate, as leery as I was about much of this issue, which is essentially a series of Lovecraft Easter Eggs, Francavilla's art really does make all the difference, and it's an incredible treat to see him drawing Lovecraft, inserting weird horrors just out of sight of the protagonist (see the back of Lovecraft's jacket on page six, for example) and riffing on characters and creatures from the world of prose.

There is also, of course, a two-page spread of Cthulhu, coming to claim his bride Sabrina as she's trussed up in a vaguely Skull Islander-like bride-delivery system. Writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Francavilla's names both appear among the waves of that splash, and it's little wonder.
That's just the left half of the spread.
Who wouldn't want to sign their name on that?

Interesting that here we are on the sixth issue of a "Rated Teen+" for "violence and mature content" Archie comic about a zombie apocalypse suddenly breaking out in the suddenly realistic world of Riverdale and the series continues to surprise. As far as unexpected guest-stars in an Archie comic go, Cthulhu has got to be somewhere in the neighborhood of Sarah Palin and The Punisher. But the surprise was certainly heightened by the fact that he wasn't hyped as a guest-star the way those other two characters were, nor did he appear on either of the covers for the book.

The regular one by Francavilla (above) features Sabrina in the muck at the feet (pseudopods?) of a many-eyed creature, while bizarre, truly alien-looking, vaguely anthropoid figures are visible in the background.
There's also a Andre Peopy variant cover in which Sabrina, dressed in what appears to be a sexy witch Halloween costume (with a Salem earring) is using sparkly magic to fight off a horde of zombified Archie characters (you can't see them very clearly on account of the log, but that's Archie's head getting clobbered by magig right above the "e" in his name).

Aquaman #33 (DC Comics) Another issue from the nicely alliterative Parker/Pelletier/Parsons team. Aquaman's conflict with Chimera, a man-made monster that has the powers of pretty much every creature in the ocean (say, that was the plan of the evil doctor in The Blood Waters of Dr. Z, wasn't it?), continues. I...don't actually have anything at all to say about this comic which, in a way, is good, as it means there's nothing notably wrong with it. But, on the other hand, compared to a lot of the comics I brought home from the shop this week, there's really nothing to recommend it over a lot of the other superhero comics you can find it sharing rack space with.

100th Anniversary Special: Avengers #1 (Marvel Entertainment) I'm not entirely sure I get the premise of these specials (Here's Marvel expert Paul O'Brien struggling with it, in reference to the X-Men special). The idea seems to be to imagine what the Marvel Comics Entertainment of the year 2063 would be like—not in a future of the Marvel Universe sort of way, but the comics Marvel might be publishing in that year, with the Marvel timeline presumably continuing to slide as it does now—that date would be 100 years after the Avengers first debuted.

But this issue is numbered #1, rather than something very, very high, and yet is written as if in the middle of an on-going storyline, rather than the first issue of a newly rebooted series. Unless the point is that, in about 50 years, Marvel will reboot its numbering so often that every issue will be a #1...?

In other words, it sounds like Marvel trying to riff on Grant Morrison's 1998 idea of imagining what the one millionth issue of every comic in DC's line might be like in the 853rd Century, although for the most part they all just read like normal comics, with only the Morrison-written JLA #1,000,000 playing with a potentially futuristic format in any meaningful way (and, notably, that format in retrospect seems to be more 21st century than 853rd).

Honestly though, conceptual difficulties aside, the most important thing about the publishing initiative is this: Marvel let James Stokoe (Orc Stain, Godzilla: Half-Century War, Wonton Soup) seemingly do whatever the hell he wanted with The Avengers for the length of a comic book. I generally refuse to pay $3.99 for 21 pages of content, but what the hell—it's James Stokoe.

And it's just James Stokoe: Writing, drawing, coloring and lettering. This looks almost exactly like an issue of Orc Stain, having the same brightly, almost sickly colored alien landscapes and hordes of ugly little bald guys in it, with just a few Marvel characters in the mix. It looks a bit like an Avengers comics trained through an issue of Orc Stain, really.

Stokoe picks up the story where it theoretically left off, with Avengers Rogue, Beta Ray Bill and Dr. Strange (reincarnated in a different body), flying around in the Quinjet (a flying metal pyramid that seats four) and surveying the Badoon-invasion ravaged landscape. They aren't the only Avengers, but they're pretty much the only ones around at the moment, with Tony Stark now a brain in a jar controlling Avengers Tower, which has a gigantic Iron Man that vomits forth little Iron Mand head drones, built into it, and Captain America exploring the Negative Zone (and seen only on the last page).
When Mole Man the Third and his legions of Moloids attack, hoping to conquer Kuala Lumpur as a new homeland, it's up to The Avengers to stop them. They do this through several pages of spectacularly, intricately drawn violence, including the fantastic image of Beta Ray Bill with a Moloid between his scary space horse skull teeth while flying with his hammer that seems to glow from within, until Dr. Strange is able to gather up the necessary mystical energy for a peaceful solution.
It's a blast from start to finish, and a pretty compelling argument that Marvel should let Stokoe do...whatever he wants, with whichever characters he wants. He certainly makes Dr. Strange's magic looks incredible, and in a different way than creator Steve Ditko and all the other folks to draw Strange's milieu over the years have rendered it...

Batman Eternal #14 (DC) I've noted before that The Penguin seems to be the only character in the Batman line that has no real consistent design, despite his many immediate visual signifiers. He's short; he's fat; he has a long, sharp, beak-like nose; he wears a monocle and a tuxedo; he carries an umbrella and he smokes. But there doesn't seem to be any consensus as to how short or how fat he is, what he smokes and how, how extravagant his wardrobe choices are and, most gallingly to me because this is the exact sort of thing I end up noticing and then being unable to un-notice, which eye he wears his monocle in, how long his hair is or how many fingers he has on his hands (Safe bet is five, but he's sometimes drawn Batman Returns-style, with more flipper-like hands featuring fewer, larger digits).

This issue, which features different artists drawing the character on the cover and inside the book, is a pretty good example of how wildly the character designs vary.

Dustin Nguyen's cover features a Penguin that is only really recognizable as The Penguin because of the fact that this is a Batman comic book, with a little Batman figure standing at the center of the image. He looks rather plump, but more old and gone-to-seed than obese, and his face is hardened and wrinkled (I'd guess he's somewhere in his 60s, in this image?). He wears a pretty normal, off-the-rack tuxedo, perhaps with a white scarf, and a short top hat. His nose is more broad, flat and bulbous than bird-like, and he has a cigar clutched between his teeth, rather than clenching his more familiar cigarette holder. He wears his monocle over his right eye.

The art on the inside of the book is drawn by Jason Fabok, whose Penguin has his more familiar, beak-like nose, and is fat in a more grotesque, obese-like way, with a huge fold of fat like something a bullfrog might inflate resting below his chin. Fabok's Penguin, who we've seen a great deal of in earlier issues of this series as well as in the pages of Detective Comics, dresses in a long, fur-trimmed coat, has super-villainous eyebrows and longish, unkempt hair and he wears his monocle over his left eye.

It's rather unfortunate that DC makes everyone draw Batman's stupid bat head-shaped kneepads and Tim Drake's godawful "Red Robin" costume, but they can pretty much do whatever they want with The Penguin.

Anyway, if you're still reading and haven't skimmed ahead, this is a pretty big issue, I would say, as it features a turning point of sorts in the Falcone/Penguin gang war, and the still forming relationship between Jason Bard and Batman.

It opens with a one-page reminder that something supernatural is going on in Arkham Asylum, with The Scarecrow (there's another character who has had a strictly-enforced design in every appearance, unlike The Penguin!) is running through the halls, talking aloud as if sending a message via some sort of radio or phone, although he's not drawn as if he's carrying anything. Suddenly, arms reach through a wall and pull him into the wall! Ghost stuff!

During the main event, The Penguin is losing his shit in his "hideout" from Falcone's men on the outskirts of Gotham, a dingy motel called "The Golden Lark." (Not really the smartest hideout for a guy long-known for his bird obsession). There a henchman talks to The Penguin, and The Penguin responds by ripping open the man's throat with his bare hands because these days, every Bat-villain is The Joker of the late 1980s. The Penguin then gets an anonymous tip as to Falcone's whereabouts, and then apparently strips down to his longjohns, gets rabies and murders a dozen of Falcone's guards off-panel with an umbrella:
He's about to slit Falcone's throat when out jump Bard, Vicki Vale and the cops, who arrest them both; Penguin for murder and attempted murder, and Falcone for criminal conspiracy and for whatever contraband there is in Falcone's hideout. Has Bard single-handedly saved Gotham from the Penguin/Falcone gang war?

Sort of. Batman traced the anonymous tip that sent Penguin to Falcone's hideout to Bard's cellphone, which means Bard arranged the whole thing, and was, as Batman points out, responsible for the deaths of 12 men in the process. Batman's understandably unhappy with Bard, and me, I find myself a bit confused. Obviously co-plotters Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV were demonstrating that as much like the crusading James Gordon that Bard might be, Bard's not above playing dirtier than Gordon to win the day, even if it means allowing gangsters to get murdered by other gangsters.

The execution seems a bit off, though, and I'm not sure if Tynion couldn't have scripted the issue differently to make the scene seem a little less nonsensical (at the very least, I'm surprised one of the three contributing writers and three editors didn't suggest anything). Bard could have arrested Penguin during his attack on the first of Falcone's men, and still had reason to search Falcone's place on the grounds that there's a crazy guy in his underwear murdering trying to stab people with a trick umbrella, rather than standing by and watching as The Penguin killed successfully killed not one or eight but a dozen of Falcone's men before jumping out to snap pictures just as the villain is about to slit Falcone's throat.

As for the other events of this issue, Red Robin flies a Batplane to Tokyo with Harper Row stowed away on it (Hey, if there is no Robin at the moment, can't we just go back to calling Drake Robin again...?), Batman has a meeting with Gordon in Blackgate, and The Scarecrow meets The Joker's Daughter, who is apparently mixed up in the supernatural goings-on at Arkham. While simultaneously in Russia with The Suicide Squad. I guess.

Batman Eternal #15 (DC) I really like this cover by Dustin Nguyen, who also pencils the interiors in this issue (with Derek Fridolfs inking). The rendering's nice and all, but I really dig the color choices, and the contrasts between the white and black and blue and red. High five, Dustin Nguyen!

This is one of those multi-sub-plot issues, featuring greater movement in the Arkham-is-full-of-spooks plot than we haven't seen in a while, with Jim Corrigan and Batwing finally entering the premises (They've either been doing recon for, like, weeks, or just walking up to the front gate really, really slowly).

We also see Tim confront Harper (in an unfortunate art mistake, the stowing-away bit is staged vastly differently in this issue than in the previous one; in #14 she seemed to be in a completely different room on some massive Bat-plane, visible to Tim only by monitor, whereas here she's in the cockpit with him, crouched behind a crate just a few feet away).

Nguyen draws Tim's Red Robin get-up better than anyone I've seen draw it yet, even giving him an honest-to-God cape instead of those weird streamers he usually has (Another high five!), and there's a nice
little face-off in which Harper puts on a blue Grifter mask and Tim asks what she's wearing.
It's a mask worn not to protect her secret identity, but because she's ashamed to be seen with you in that outfit of yours.
Tim, you have no right to question anybody about their costume ever! Yours is now officially the Worst Costume In Superhero Comics. Youngblood cross the street when they see you coming.

Speaking of costumes, I don't really like Batwing's; it looks too owl-like, and I find it kinda weird that the only member of the Bat-family who isn't white completely covers his skin.

Also in this issue, Batman and Bard shake hands after Batman left him hanging last issue, and Batgirl and Red Hood meet up with Batwoman.

It's all very well drawn. I wish there were more Nguyen issues in Batman Eternal

Batman Eternal #16 (DC) Well ask and you shall receive! It's another Nguyen issue of Batman Eternal!

This one is almost entirely Arkham-set, and features what I think is the New 52 debut of Maxie Zeus (although I could and probably am wrong; given all the prison and asylum riots and break-outs in the dozen or so Bat-books, surely he had at least a cameo somewhere already). It looks like this Zeus is inspired by the more formidable version from Batman: The Animated Series, rather than the Denny O'Neil-created, Don Newton and Dan Adkins-drawn delusional gangster of the pre-New 52 comics.

There are also three pages set in Tokyo in which Red Robin Tim Drake and Grifter-cosplaying Harper Row fight some robot tentacles and come face to face with the inventor guy who helped train Batman in a "Zero Year" back-up story.

Fortuitously, the opening page of these scene faces that weird, dumb ad for the new volume of Teen Titans, so a reader can see exactly why it is that Ngueyn, Fridolfs and colorists John Kalisz's Red Robin looks significantly less dumb than the one in Teen Titans:
Not only does Nguyen draw the teenager to look like, you know, a teenager, they really cut down on the colors (no yellow padding on the gloves, no glowing green chest mirror, no red highlights on the pants, a dark colored utility belt), and streamlined the whole look, while giving Tim a cape rather than a cape-that-transforms-into-a-wingshaped-hanglider. It's still a lame costume, what with the harness and the bird head and the T-symbol, but it's not as lame as it is in its home book.

Batman '66 #13 (DC) No sign of regular writer Jeff Parker this issue (this ones by Gabe Soria, co-writer of Life Sucks with Jessica Abel and Warren Pleece), but we do get 20 pages of Dean Haspiel superhero art, which certainly makes this issue a treat. The antagonist appears to be not a particular foe (at least, not until the end), but the existence of a dark, intense, noir-ish and violent television show called Dark Knight Detective, the poster of which looks like the poster for Batman: The Animated Series, only with the Batman sporting a few days' worth of stubble on his chin.

In the black-and-white show, the Batman wears a suit and tie with his cowl (which bears the white, triangle eyes), and smacks around his opponents, threatening to "give them the Bat-business."

The show's a hit, even helping fight crime in Gotham, as thugs see the "real" Batman and cower in fear, pleading that he not give them the bat-business, but this Batman doesn't want all of Gotham City to be terrified of him, and so he confronts the man behind the show.

Soria offers a sharp, fun and funny take on the various forms of "Bat-Mania" that have swept the country at semi-regular intervals over the decades, and it's certainly interesting to see the goofy, cartoonish, so-called "campy" Batman literally confronted with darker, more violent media takes, as in this particular story, the criticism is leveled toward the post-Batman '66 takes, rather than vice versa.

Also, Haspiel's art is always a joy to read, and I particularly enjoyed his versions of the lead characters. Unlike some of the artists to have worked on this series (and it's ...Meets The Green Hornet spin-off), Haspiel doesn't try to model the characters closely on the actors who played them, but rather gives us his own version of Bruce Wayne from the Batman television show. That is, he doesn't cast Adam West in his art, he casts Haspiel's Bruce Wayne in the role of Bruce Wayne. He's not trying to ape the show, but simply draw the script. And damn does it look good.

Classic Popeye #24 (IDW) nothing. This was certainly another issue of Classic Popeye.

Flowers of Evil Vol. 10 (Vertical) Shuzo Oshimi's story enters it's tenth volume, which means its time to launch a new cover/book design scheme. So far, every three volumes have had unified designs, changing to something new every time the next volume starts, dividing the series into mult-volume chapters of sorts (That is, Volumes 1-3 all looked alike, 4-6 all looked alike, and 7-9). This looks to be a particularly important chapter, as Takao returns to his hometown for the first time since he left (for the death of his grandfather), and, while there, learns of the current whereabouts of his twisted muse and one-time obsession Nakamura, who he and his new friend and love interest track down together. They don't actually meet until the last panel, but Oshimi sure invests it with a sense of occasion. Likely one that will fill the next two volumes.

Insufficient Direction (Vertical) This is the only thing in this post I haven't finished reading yet; I'm only about halfway through, but this post is already a few days late, so I'm going to finish the post up, regardless of how finished I am reading everything purchased at the shop this last visit.

It is a series of short autobiographical vignettes by manga-ka Moyoco Anno (Happy Mania, Sugar Sugar Rune) about life with her husband Hideaki Anno (of Neon Genesis Evangelion fame), mostly revolving around their shared otaku-ness, and how Moyoco finds herself constantly negatively judging her husband for being an otaku, while denying that she herself is one...and constantly becoming a bigger and bigger one.

This being manga, Moyoco draws herself with a weird avatar she calls "Rompers," who looks like a cartoonishly drawn little baby (onesie and bib and all) with constantly swirling eyes. Her husband she calls "Director-kun," and draws to look like a real person (it's a good funny manga likeness, actually, generally only exaggerated for softer, comedic effect). In all honesty, it took a bit to get used to the idea that the baby was just an avatar, and, on first flip-through, it seems to be a manga about a man who married a talking baby (which...well, it's not the weirdest premise for a manga series that I've heard of).

It's an engaging read, but I was somewhat taken aback by how specific the many references to Japanese pop culture are (like, about one per panel) and how little of them I could understand without the 30 pages of annotations explaining them.

Until I bought this, I was pretty sure comics publisher's had already used every conceivable route in which to exploit my love of Eva to convince me to buy more comics, but I guess I hadn't thought of anyone ever publishing a comic about Anno's married life...

Lumberjanes #1-4 (Boom Studios) After months of dithering after reading the first issue in pdf format for a review, I decided to bite the bullet, catch-up on the series and add it to my pull-list. This may seem silly, but it was the sash on the back-cover with its custom-made Girl Scout Lumberjanes badges added with each issue, and the mix-tape CD covers and track-lists (and my dislike of the first Adventure Time trade paperback collection, which seemed to be 1/3rd variant covers) that ultimately convinced me to read this charming comic in serial, comic book format rather than wait for the trade.

Not so sure about those Yeti designs though. What are they doing in North America instead of the Himalayas? And why do they have horns? They look more Wampa then Yeti to me...

The New 52: Futures End #10 (DC) Aaron Lopresti and Art Thibert draw this issue, in which Batman "Beyond" Terry McGinnis conspires with Coil, The Key and Plastique to break into Mr. Terrific's HQ very publicly and loudly in The Wounded Duck, the bar where bearded Tim Drake and his girlfriend Maddy work. Tim recognizes Terry as a pupil of Batman's, and Terry maybe recognizes him back. ("What do you know about the Tonga Death Strike?" "I know the man who came up with the deathless variation.")

In other plot lines, Hawkman grows his arm back and begins to flirt with Amethyst, who Frankenstein has previously flirted with. Could we be looking at a love triangle? In space? Oh, and Masked Superman does some stuff, Grifter starts narrating for the first time in ten issues, and a lady finds Big Barda working in a soup kitchen, although she keeps her armor in a gym bag she always carries with her.

The New 52: Futures End #11 (DC) Artist Georges Jeanty draws this issue, the highlight of which is the Justice League of 2019—Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Aquaman, Cyborg, Red Arrow Roy Harper, the still-being-introduced Justice League United character Equinox and new character Stormguard—beaming Ronnie Raymond aboard their satellite HQ for an intervention, that leads only to both halves of Firestorm resigning from the League separately.

I think I'd rather follow the Justice League of 2019 around in this series rather than Grifter, Hawkman, Batman Beyond and company, but the protagonists of this series are up to its four writers, not me.

The New 52: Futures End #12 (DC) This Jesus Merino-pencilled, Dan Green-inked twelfth issue of the series—we've already had over a year's worth of a monthly comic, counting that #0 issue!—features a long stretch featuring New 52, Fiver Years Later King Faraday and characters from Team WildStorm, I think, and some dull business featuring big yellow Hulk lady Ravage and an annoying mad geneticist.

More exciting by far are the opening, in which Frankenstein, Hawkman and Amethyst meet the Brainiac-possessed Engineer and a bunch of robots, and the ending, in which we return to the somewhat more nightmarish future of 35 years from now, where we discover that both Batman Bruce Wayne (sans arm, of course) and his old foe The Joker are both still alive. They are seen in the company of evil cyborg versions of Congorilla, original style Lobo (although in one panel his white skin is colored the peach-like color of caucasians) and Frenkenstein, whose jacket is now left open to reveal Black Canary's head, which looks quite different than it did upon its first unveiling; now it looks more like her face stretched out and stitched on his chest, rather than her head embedded in it.

Still gross, though!

Saga #21 (Image Comics) There's a scene in this issue in which Mama Sun, the madam at Sextillion and her legal counsel, a little lizard man, inform the brain-addled Prince Robot IV that his wife has been killed and his son kidnapped. Regaining his senses (somewhat), Robot responds with incredible violence. In the background, the lawyer's tail pops off in fright, and, two panels later, it can be seen wriggling on the floor in the center of that particular image. It's a neat little detail, and just that, but the sort which Saga is filled with, their number giving the often strange setting a rich, textured, realistic, even rewarding feel.

"Gross," a friend of mine who was reading my copy before I did said aloud, and I asked her what she was referring to. She showed me page nine, a full-page splash of the kidnapper, holding a recent victim's spinal column in one bloody hand, the poor dead guy's head still attached.

"What?" I said. "It looks like what you'd find in pretty much any DC Comic. Except it's better-drawn."

She-Hulk #5 (Marvel) She-Hulk and the gang continue to investigate the mystery of the blue file, with Shulkie taking a meeting with Dr. Kevin Trench, aka Nightwatch (Who I had to Google, as I'd never heard of him). Their meeting is interrupted by a horde of creatures that look like Stitch from Lilo & Stitch crossed with bats. Ron Wimberly is still guest-drawing, which means this will likely be a controversially received issue, based on visuals alone. I like his art just fine, although I wish the last panel on page 4 were drawn differently. Something pretty pivotal happens, involving something going from one character's mouth into another's (sorry to be so vague) and it's unclear if it's some form of liquid or a beam of light or energy, as there's no real sense of texture in Wimberly's art (it's drawn the same as the blood in these panels, but it also seems to light up things around it, as if were emanating bright light).

Seconds (Ballantine Books) I'll be giving this a formal review elsewhere in the near future, but am including it here so as to adhere to the rules of this regular EDILW feature. This is, of course, Bryan Lee O'Malley's first comics work since finishing up his Scott Pilgrim series, and, because of that, I can't think of another example of a book I've read with so much trepidation. I was worried for myself as a reader, worried that it wouldn't be good, or that it would read quite poorly after Scott Pilgrim, by virtue of O'Malley suffering some kind of sophomore slump or difficult second act or simply not living up to whatever expectations I had for it, based on O'Malley's previous works (Lost at Sea, Scott Pilgrim and some shorts and covers I'm surprised no one has collected yet). I was also a little worried for the author, as I would kinda hate to be in that position, finishing up such a long-lived and beloved series to start something brand-new.

I needn't have worried though. It's really good, completely deserving the term "graphic novel," with the accent on "novel," and it was an engrossing, couldn't-put-it-down-even-though-I-really-shoulda-went-to-bed-100-pages-ago sort of read. It looks a lot like the work of O'Malley, but it doesn't read much like Scott Pilgrim at all (with the exception, perhaps, of the two protagonists both being a little dim).

The premise involves mushrooms and starting over at certain points, and thus operates on a sort of arcade, or at least arcade-adjacent, logic, but O'Malley eschews video game references, and it is instead a much more mystical affair than I would have imagined.

I think the book benefits from being a single book, rather than a series of several shorter volumes, as it easily could have been, and from O'Malley collaborating manga studio-style (or what I imagine to be magna studio-style) with a drawing assistant (Jason Fischer), colorist (Nathan Fairbairn) and letterer (Dustin Harbin). Regarding drawing, I would love to read who did did what, but the characters all look like O'Malley's, and the stuff that looks foreign—the food, the cityscapes, the buildings—could be because they are Fischer's, or could simply be because they are in color, or because O'Malley's a different artist than he was a decade ago.

Anyway, real, less-rambling review to follow within the week.

Superior Foes of Spider-Man #13 (Marvel) Okay yes, that's some straight-from-the-Three-Stooges slapstick right there, but its presence here in a Marvel Universe comic book, one written by Nick Spencer with deadpan jokes, conveyed beautifully via Steve Lieber's realistic style, is fantastic. And that's just one gag on one minor page (the last page is a pretty killer one, as two long-separate threads are shown to be just about to meet again).

It's a good illustration of what makes this comic so great. It looks so much like the sort of crime or super-crime comic of the sort that, say, Ed Brubaker used to be all about, which only makes the comedy feel more subversive, and the jokes hit all the harder.

Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe #1 (IDW) Hey, it's James Stokoe again! Drawing the variant cover I happened to get, which is sitting atop interiors drawn, colored, lettered and co-written by Tom Scioli, and co-written by John Barber.

And yes, this is another $3.99/20-page comic, but frankly Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe #0 was so goddam entertaining, I assumed this issue would be well-worth the extra buck and, I think it's worth noting, that the comic is so rich with texture and detail that it took about as long to read as most Marvel or DC trade paperbacks do, and that's before even factoring in the five pages of page-by-page commentary by the creators, complete with different versions of art and scenes cut from the book (I wonder how unique this book is in its writing and re-writing process, as the various drafts discussed all seem so radically different from one another).

Also, nice paper stock, and all the ads in the back. This is really nice package, even if I wish it were $2.99 (as both Afterlife With Archie and Saga are).

So the other day I was reading Mark Bellomo's The Ultiamte Guide to G.I. Joe 1982-1994 Identification and Price Guide (KP Book; 2005), because why wouldn't I be, and among the many figures/characters I didn't know existed that I read about was Hard Top, who came included with Defiant" Space Vehicle Launch Complex (he drove the "crawler," mobile space shuttle launching pad/tank thingee). And then, while reading this comic, I see him on the penultimate page, one of the 30 recognizable Joe characters in the second panel.
It was sort of strange reading this on the heels of that guide book, of which I'm only on 1988, as it reminded me of so many figures, vehicles and playsets I had forgotten about (my memories of the cartoon are my strongest, my memories of the toys that neither I nor any of my friends own are virtually non-existent at this point). Scioli and Barber are very thorough in their references, but then, I suppose that's to be expected of any comic that includes a "Special thanks to Ed Piskor, Jasen Lex, and Aychbe for the loan fof their collections...for art reference."

The comic is very much more of the same of what was in the zero issue; an awesome G.I. Joe comic that synthesizes the cartoon, comics and toys into one rather seamless seeming and inventive whole, with a Transformer plot creeping in.

A Joe team saves the town of Springfield from a full-on invasion by Tomax, Xamot and their Crimson Guard while, in the shadows, Destro and a character looking like a mysterious cross between The Baroness and Serpentor watch and plot. Meanwhile, the planet Cybertron is gradually entering Earth's atmosphere, and the Joe team sets up a meeting with a Decepticon contingent at "Area Zero: 52 top-secret levels above Area 51."

There General Hawk receives three transforming alien ships (Shockwave, Soundwave and Starscream), speaking to Ravage, who emerges with Laserbeak and Frenzy from the Soundwave ship. It all goes South pretty quickly, thanks in part to Ravage's misunderstanding of the word "peace" vs. "surrender" and Snake-Eyes appearing in a mysterious capacity. Soundwave seems to die in the melee (Noooooooo!), but Laserbeak and Frenzy find themselves taking "sanctuary within the coils of Cobra."

At book's end, a huge Joe strike-force is preparing to land upon Cybertron, which the creators reveal was part of their pitch for the series. Rather than the Transformers invading Earth, as in every previous G.I. Joe crossover (and almost every Transformer story ever), this series is reversing it, so that the Joes invade Cybertron.
I have to imagine this book is appealingly insane to anyone who has no or simply limited exposure to these franchises in their 1980s glory, but to those of us who played with these toys and watched these cartoons, this book is ridiculously amazing. I'm in awe of how much they pack into this issue, and of their ability to cook up great line after great line (I'm not sure what my favorite is; maybe a three-way tie between "I offered you peace, and you ran me over with your car" and "If you meet Space Buddha, kill Space Buddha" and "We have met the enemy...and it is giant killer robots.")

This is, without a doubt, my absolute favorite comic book being published at the moment.


JohnF said...

Do people actually like the artwork of Tom Scioli? It looks like a child's drawings, but everyone talks about how great he is. I am very confused.

Caleb said...

Yes. People actually like the artwork of Tom Scioli. I do not. I LOVE it.

JohnF said...