Thursday, October 02, 2014

Comics shop comics: October 1

I know I talk a lot of trash about DC Comics, but that is obviously just because I love them and their characters and products so much. After all, now that I sit down to review my way through this week's pull-list, I see that every single comic book-comic I bought this Wednesday was published by DC Comics. I woulda another DC comic too, but my shop sold out of Tiny Titans: Return to the Treehouse this week.


Batman Eternal #26 (DC Comics) This issue doesn't actually do much to alleviate the concerns I had about Hush being introduced as the main villain behind all the other villains, even though it does purport to show a very abbreviated version of his origin, and a more abbreviated still look at a past conflict with Batman.

Similar to the series' handling of Deacon Blackfire, Batman Eternal has taken another older Batman villain and introduced him to the New 52 for the first time. For all intents and purposes then, these are Hush's first appearances, but he's presented as an older villain that Batman and Batman's readers should be familiar with—and we are, although all the stories we've read featuring Hush no longer "count," as they've been rebooted away and are pretty impossible to reconcile with Batman history as it now stands.

This then, is another instance of a DCU comic that wants to have it both ways: The supposed new reader friendliness that supposedly comes with a new, shorter, rebooted continuity, and reader excitement and familiarity with characters that we only know from stories that aren't supposed to have happened any more (Or, rather, they happened, but in some vague, nebulous way that differs greatly from the stories you might find in still-available trade collections like Batman: Hush, Batman: The Heart of Hush, and wherever that weird story where Dr. Tommy Elliott gave himself Bruce Wayne's face and started impersonating then then-"dead" billionaire was inevitably collected. Oh, and I guess all those comics are probably all available digitally too, right?)

In other words: Problem With The New 52 Reboot #523. (As far as I can tell, the only good thing about the reboot, from a creative and/or aesthetic rather than marketing/money-making point of view, is that it allowed Sndyer to tweak Batman's origin story in "Zero Year" in pretty fascinating ways).

In this issue, scripted by Tynion and drawn once again by R.M. Guera (not a fan), with a flashback sequence drawn by Juan Ferreyra, the "surviving" members of the Bat-Family confront a badly wounded Bruce Wayne in the Batcave, while Julia Pennyworth is stitchin him back together.

"It's time we all got on the same page," Red Robin Tim Drake says from deep within his horrible, horrible costume. "No more secrets."

And so Bruce tells them all the secret origin of Hush (It woulda have been sweet if he ended the sequence by saying, "Oh, and by the way, Dick faked his own death and I'm the only one who knows it; I've been keeping that secret from you guys and Alfred for a couple months now, but it's been well worth it, because his new title, Grayson is soooo much better than Nightwing was").

The original Jeph Loeb-written "Hush" story arc was long-enough ago and poorly-written enough that I've actually forgotten large bits of it, but I think the basics are all pretty much still there...Tommy Elliot is here basically to Bruce Wayne as Jennifer Jason Leigh is to Bridget Fonda in Single White Female. It would appear that Elliot is now a redhead instead of blonde (they totally shoulda had him dye his hair black as a teenager to look more like Bruce). But as to how and why he became a dangerous supervillain, there's just a single splash page of him shooting guns at Batman atop a suspension bridge, with Batman saying "And once he learned my secret...once he saw what I had left the city to become... He beame something new himself."

How he became able to pull the pretty damn big strings he's pulling here, how he learned that Bruce Wayne was Batman (I'm guessing The Riddler didn't tell him in this version) and what those past battles were exactly (It's a cinch it wasn't what we saw in "Hush" or "Heart of Hush"), is left unsaid. For now, I guess. I got a sense that the Bat-Family was hearing all of this for the first time though, which seems super-weird.

Two more developments of note: Cluemaster puts out a $1 million bounty on Spoiler, and Alfred, who is gaining hella weight while in a coma, is taken by Hush to Akrham Asylum and dropped at the feet of The Joker's Daughter, who is apparently commuting back and forth between Suicide Squad and Batman Eternal.

I'm obviously still reading, I like the book in general well enough, although I wish the art were more consistent* (some weeks it's one of the best-looking things on the stands, some weeks it's just plain awful) and I wish it weren't so reliant on the "secret" New 52 continuity. It certainly fulfills my desire to read decent Batman comic book-comics though, filling my Wednesday evenings with the adventures of the "real" Batman during the long waits between trade collections of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's Batman.

Batman '66 Meets The Green Hornet #5 (DC) The threat of being sued for lots and lots of money finally forces the two teams of crime-fighters to form an uneasy alliance in this penultimate issue of the series. I'm a little disappointed that it's been so small in scale—that is, they've only tackled General Gumm and The Joker for five issues now, instead of throwing in all the other villains. I like crossovers to be as thorough as possible, personally (The Kurt Busiek/George Perez JLA/Avengers crossover being perhaps the ultimate example of approaching such a crossover as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be seized by throwing in everything you could possibly want to see in such a crossover).

Regular artist Ty Templeton gets a lot of help drawing this issue; some of it is from Jon Bagdanove, who doesn't draw anything like Templeton, but also reigns his own personal style in enough that it looks wholly appropriate for the story, and a bunch of other folks.
I couldn't really make heads-or-tails of those credits, really.

It doesn't look as nice as previous issues, but that's what happens when you go from one or two artists to 3-8 artists.

Gotham Academy #1 (DC) I was quite pleasantly surprised that this first issue ended up being every bit as good as I hoped it would based on the promotional imagery and creative team, and that it was not the least bit disappointing (This, by the way, is the exact sort of comic book that DC should have launched in the first, September 2011 wave of their New 52 initiative, or waited to launch that initiative until they could put together more books like this one—a book that looks, reads and feels like little to nothing they were publishing before, by new and exciting creators to the DCU, with the potential to interest and entice readers beyond the people that were already reading DC Comics in August of 2011).

The writing team of Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher and artist Karl Kerschl (colored by "Geyser" and Dave McCaig) introduce us to the prestigious private prep school of the title which is, of course, appropriately Gothic for a school in Gotham (Clocktowers, bell towers, gargoyles, a headmaster whose last name is that of a film studio best-known for old-school horror films and who uses a candlestick to light the way at night).

Our cast so far includes students like the comic booky-named Olive Silverlock, our olive-skinned, silver-haired protagonist, and excitable freshman Maps, the younger sister of Olive's ex-boyfriend Kyle. Aside from the tension between the two girls stemming from whatever happened between Olive and Kyle, there's also apparently a ghost haunting the academy, some mean girls bullying Olive and a portentous past relationship of some sort between Batman and Olive, which made the latter no fan of the former.

Batman appears, or, really, former Gotham Academy attendee Bruce Wayne appears, and their are some nods to the elaborate back-history of Gotham City that Scott Snyder has worked into his Bat-work.

For all the interesting set-up, and there is a lot to hook a reader in this first issue (as there should be in a first issue), it's Kerschl's art that really sold me on the book. His designs, paired with the rich coloration, gave every panel the feel of a cel from an animated movie (Er, do they still use cels in making animated movies? Probably not. I'm old and out-of-touch, and so are my comparisons).

Were a different artist assigned to the project, one more in keeping with the style of DC's current house style**, I could see it erasing whatever good will the writing had generated, but thankfully, that is not the case.

I can't remember the last time I was so excited to read the first issue of a new DC Comics series, and was not disappointed in it at all.

Well, I don't like the way the plaid skirts all line-up just-so when more than one appears on the same panel, but that's probably just me. I wouldn't grade it quite as highly as, say, Chris Sims, but then, I have a harder, colder heart than him, too (His point about The New 52 DCU seeming much less lived-in, like a house without furniture, is a good one). I'd give Gotham Academy an A-, which, if we grade DC Comics on a curve, still amounts to a 100%, I suppose.

The New 52: Futures End #22 (DC) There are four different writers writing this series, and yet not one of them was able to stop the introduction of a pair of British super-people wearing tight, boob-sock-having Union Jack t shirts who go by the code-names "Banger" and "Mash."

It was hard to keep reading after that point, but I did; I saw Batman Beyond serve Plastique a can of cold chili straight from the can, I saw the introduction of another version of Brainiac (I think?), who welcomes Hawkman, Amethyst and Frankenstein to his world world, "The Blood Moon," which I've heard is going to be the name of the next big DCU crossover story.

Patrick Zircher drew this issue.

I saw this house ad in one of my DC books this week. Its for the third DC weekly series, and I'm kinda sorta interested, as I love weekly series, but I wonder if two might be my limit. And I'm already reading Futures End, which is maybe the only deeply unpleasant DCU comic I need to read on a weekly basis (Earth 2: World's End was sold by its editor with words like "bring on the body bags" in a recent-ish advertorial).

I do think it will likely end up being pretty important, based on last week's Futures End: Booster Gold, and the fact that it seems to deal with the very event that lead to the dystopian near-future in Futures End.

The reason I pulled out that ad to discuss here though is I just wanted to mention how good that particular super-team looks all gathered together like that. A lot of bright, striking colors, all of which are highly differentiated from one another. Because superhero teams are generally put together based on the characters or their powers rather than the way they look standing next to one another, it's actually pretty rare that you see a team line-up like that which looks good standing next to one another (These characters may just be randomly selected for the purposes of the ad, however; I don't see Dr. Fate, Hawkgirl or Red Tornado, who have all played roles in the events of Earth 2 so far).

Anyway, I kinda like that image, is all.

*I do hope that, after a few months worth of a break for the purposes of plotting, DC launches another Batman weekly ongoing series, after taking a good long hard look at what didn't work so well here, and fixing it for the next go-round. As for the problem of the art, ideally they would find the world's fastest artist to draw the whole thing on a weekly basis.

Mark Bagley did an astounding job on
Trinity, drawing the bulk of each issue with back-ups by another artist. I wonder if Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles artist Jim Lawson could do 80 pages a month solo; I've been reading TMNT vol. 4 and its companion series Tales of The TMNT vol. 2 recently, and I've been astounded by how much Lawson got drawn every month or two, sometimes drawing 40+ pages of the bi-monthly main series and also drawing its bi-monthly and then monthly spin-off. I don't think Lawson's particular style would be particularly welcome at DC right now, but I bet he's an artist who could actually get away with drawing awfully close to 80 pages a month, particularly if he was just doing pencils.

The other option would be to carefully break the book down into sub-plots, and give each plotline its own artist. So, for example, in this series, one artist would draw the Batman storyline, another the Red Robin storyline, another the Arkham storyline, and they'd take turns when the storylines meet. And it would help if they found four-to-six artists who were both really good and stylistically compatible.

**Which basically looks like darkly-colored WildStorm art, which continues to baffle me, since WildStorm comics sold so poorly compared to DCU comics.


Evan Dawson-Baglien said...

I think the biggest change in the New 52 origin of Hush is the order of parent death, Elliot's parents died before Waynes in the original story, not after them. If I recall the other reason Elliot was so mad at the Waynes was that Thomas Wayne operated on his mother and saved her from the crash.

Bram said...

Someone gets a high heel through the eye, I'll start reading.