Friday, August 29, 2014

Comic shop comics: August 27

Adventures of Superman #16 (DC Comics) This is actually just the penultimate issue of the digital-first Superman anthology series, but, based on its contents, it wouldn't be a bad story to go out on. "Strange Visitor" is an issue-length, 30-page story illustrated by a battalion of different artists and featuring an out-of-continuity, high-concept premise that boils the character down to some core aspects and presents a unique and imaginative story taking into account various iterations of Superman (it is not however, the one reflected on that dynamite Jon Bogdanove cover, in which the Supermen of different eras by different artists seem to team-up).

Writer Joe Keatinge gets his Morrison on (right down to the Superman-as-basically-God metaphor) in a story that imagines Superman debuting in 1939 (teaming-up with First Appearance Batman and Dracula to fight "Frankenstein's Forbidden Army") and then aging—or, rather, not aging—in real-time from there until the end of the universe. Or so.

A framing device has old man Kamandi telling the story of Superman to an animal prince, just as Earth is ending and Earthlings are looking for a new home in the stars, and that story involving Superman's failure to save a rocket and its crew in 1939, and never, ever, ever giving up on trying to do so, even if it takes him the rest of his immortal life.

Pencil artists include Ming Doyle (on the framing sequences), Brent Schooner (who drew the 1939 pages, maybe the best-looking over all), David Williams, Tula Lotay and Jason Shawn Alexander.

It's issues like this that remind me exactly why I'm going to miss this series when its gone. Hopefully Sensation Comics will quickly become a suitable replacement, even if it's not there yet.

Batman '66 #14 (DC) Like the lovely Mike Allred cover teases—man, I love how cocky Batman and Robin look about their giant robot!—this one is about a robot Batman. The Robot Batman on the interior of the book isn't quite so big; he's maybe 10-fee-tall at most, but yeah, what if Batman '66 had a Robot Batman '66, which fought crime in Gotham City, circa 1966? That's the premise of this Jeff Parker-written issue.

The Bat-bot does a pretty bang-up job of crime-fighting, taking on and taking down the Clock King and Louie The Lilac and doing such a swell job in general that Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson, Commissioner Gordon and Chief O'Hara find themselves forced to go fishing to pass the time.

As well-programmed as the robot is, however, it's not quite ready for a team-up of The Joker and The Riddler, so the flesh and blood Batman returns to prove his worth.

This one's pretty fun, in large part because of how far it drifts from the TV show inspiration in terms of plotting—my childhood memories of the show aren't that great, but it's hard to imagine them pulling off the robot action in this issue—while maintaining the tone and characterizations.

The art is, unfortunately, split between Paul Rivoche and Craig Rousseau (the latter of whom is colored by Tony Avina; Rivoche colored his own work). Both are fine artists, of course (although Rivoche's style is probably better-suited to this particular book, where the more realistic the art is, the stronger the tension that creates the peculiar humor of this version of Batman is), but their styles are so different as to clash, making for a rough transition. And Rivoche gives Gordon gray/white hair, while Avina gives him brown hair).

Batman Eternal #21 (DC) Bad-ass Alfred alert! As tough as Alf may look on that cover, and as good a game as he may talk when an intruder busts into Wayne Manor, he doesn't come out on top of this particular encounter (Bright side? His daughter will learn why exactly he's "just" a butler, and he doesn't really have to betray Batman to do it). This issue, once again drawn by Jason Fabok, introduces several new villains into the narrative. At least one of them is a character that's been hanging around a lot over the last 21 issues without seeming like a villain, so I imagine that will come as a surprise; another is a Snyder/Tynion IV creation reappearing for the first time, and the other is a major-ish Batman villain who I think is making his New 52 debut and, given the nature of the character in the past, I wonder if his identity is different than it was before the reboot.

What's interesting about this is that for all the new villains appearing in this issue, there's talk of other villains behind them. Falcone reveals he was playing a temporary role in the events going on in Gotham, at the behest of a mysterious string-puller, another villain talks to his unidentified boss on the phone. Maybe it's that major-ish Batman villain (which would square with one aspect of the very first page of the series), or, more likely still, there's someone behind that villain as well.

I don't know. Some of this seems like clever, long-term planning, and some of it just seems rather random, with new characters being tossed in willy-nilly, the pacing and focus of the book not giving any of them any more weight or import than any other. I guess we'll see how it all shakes out; I just got much more interested in what's going on with the Batman plot-line, even as it seems like we've spent too long away from the Red Robin/Harper and Arkham plotlines.

Oh, and this issue is scripted by Tynion, whose wrist I would (gently) slap, were it in the room with me for panel three of page seven, in which Harvey Bullock tells Jason Bard, "It's good to see someone I can trust behind that chair again."

Shouldn't he say "behind that desk" or "in that chair"...? When someone is sitting in a chair, we don't say they are behind it.

New 52: Futures End #17 (DC) Hey, I correctly guessed the identity of the masked Superman of five years from now! Hooray! Not that it was much of an accomplishment, as the cover for October's issue #22 so thoroughly telegraphed the identity.

Now that it has been revealed though, the costume doesn't make a whole hell of a lot of sense, as there's really no reason for that particular character to completely cover his skin (it's not like he's green, or an energy being, or a black man, or covered with fur or scales, or whatever). In fact, the character under the mirrored face mask looks so much like Superman he probably could have gotten away with a domino mask or pair of Eradicator-style shades; maybe an ear-less Batman cowl. (Also, I'm not sure why he doesn't have a cape; that guy and Superman both love capes!).

It seems like a matter of DC trying to make a mystery for the readers, more than a matter of the character trying to conceal the fact that he's not the same Superman that used to dress differently; unless he's also trying to conceal that fact from, like, the rest of the Justice League and those that new Superman best...?

I don't know.

I really like the cover on this issue, though; at least the way it features Superman "standing" next to Lois in mid-air like that. It's subtle, so subtle I didn't even notice it for a while.

This is the last issue before DC's entire New 52 line spends the month of September tying in to the events of this series (despite the fact that a few books that will be tying in to it outsell it by a healthy margin), so I suppose the events of this issue were appropriately big, at least compared to what's come before: Superman 2019's real identity is revealed, the original Superman makes an appearance, and someone or something—Brainiac/Brother Eye, I assume—takes control of the Earth 2 captives and has them break out of their cells on Cadmus Island.

Patrick Zircher draws this issue, and does a pretty good job of it. The opening scene choreography took a few readings to sink in, but I liked the last panel of the book a whole lot.

Saga #22 (Image Comics) Bra-vo on the introduction of King Robot, guys. I actually laughed aloud at his first on-page appearance, and that, that is a great example of how to use a two-page spread. I hope every "mainstream" (i.e. Marvel and DC) comic book artist is reading Saga, and at least 50% of them are feeling bad about themselves while doing so.

Also: Holy shit, pages 15-18! I know that this particular issue doesn't feature the most dire straits our lead characters have been in since the start of the book—there are fewer guns and bounty-hunters about, for example—but that scene really felt like the greatest, most insurmountable challenge they've been faced with.

This issue was so good that I didn't even miss Lying Cat. Until I typed that last sentence, and reminded myself of Lying Cat. I miss you, Lying Cat! I miss you so much!

Best part of that cover? Quick Kick facing Devastator with nunchucks.
Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe #2 (IDW) There are a few ways to convince me to buy a $3.99 comic that's less than 30 pages in length. One is to publish a comic so dense that it reads longer than its 20-22 pages (Superior Foes of Spider-Man, for example). Another is to publish a comic book so awesome that I just can't resist it, the extra dollar be damned (the recent Turtles In Time book featuring EDILW favorite Ross Campbell drawing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fighting dinosaurs, for example).

IDW's Tom Scioli and John Barber's Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe comic actually does both. It's only 20 pages in long, but reads like more, and features three pages of annotations by the creators, in which they basically interview each other about the process of making the comic, page by page. And as for awesomeness, well,this issue includes a scene in which Scarlet bails out of a crashing space shuttle on a motorcycle, lands on the barrel of behemoth Transformer Devastator's gun, does a daredevil jump off the natural ramp formed by a projection from his shoulder, lands inside a waiting Tomahawk helicopter, spinning on a dime in time to fire her motorcycle-mounted guns at Devastator.

That's just a throwaway four-panel sequence in this comic, in which the G.I. Joe team invades Cybertron (in retaliation for the Decepticons' invasion of Earth in the previous issue), without really having any idea who's who and what's what on Cybertron.

As with the previous issues, Scioli and Barber plunge deep into the mythologies of these merchandising franchises, coming up with characters I was completely unfamiliar with, despite growing up with these cartoons and toys.

For example, Trypticon (not one of the better names, really), a Decepticon city that can transform into a Godzilla-sized (or bigger?) theropod dinosaur monster. Apparently, he's a G1 Transformer, which is the only, um, "G" I have any familiarity with, really, but I don't ever remember hearing of this guy. He is usually black in color, but Scioli makes him gray in the comic, so, upon initial flip-through, I imagined he was just a bigger-than-usual Grimlock.

Also as with previous issues, this one's pleasures include high concepts (a reversal of the traditional Transformers storyline of the robots coming to our world) and awesome page construction and design (page five is simply amazing, and I can't stop reading those pages over and over again).

I am kind of shocked that Scioli and Barber had Megatron speak of "looking for green men—little invaders from a doomed and desperate world," rather than referring to them as "little green men," though, given the obvious parallels.

Flipping through the book one last time, I see that it contains two Transformers I owned as a child (Bombshell and Perceptor), three Joes I owned (Jinx, Roadblock and Sci-Fi) and two Joe vehicles (The Snowcat and The Battleforce 2000 Vector).

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