Friday, November 28, 2014

Comic Shop Comics: November 26

Batman Eternal #34 (DC Comics) It's the final showdown between Batman and Hush, which means...Hush isn't the master villain behind all of the problems in Gotham after all...? That appears to be the point of Batman finding the invitation in Hush's coat at the climax of the issue, and, if that is the case, then, hoo boy, who is the villain behind all the villains?

They've already introduced Deacon Blackfire, Carmine Falcone and Hush into The New 52 via this series, and all of them have now apparently all proved to be mini-bosses rather than the final boss. The Penguin, way past overdue for a major overhaul, has already been introduced and dismissed from the series, as has Bane, who played an extremely small role.

I suppose it could be The Riddler, who has previously intimated that he knew who the real enemy was, but it would be weird for writer Scott Snyder, co-plotting this with James Tynion, to use him again in such a manner so soon after "Zero Year." Ditto The Joker, after "Death of The Family" and the in-progress "Endgame." Ra's al Ghul always seemed the most likely, given the second half of the title and the fact that the first page revealed the villain knew Batman's secret identity, but Ra's, like Two-Face, seems to be a character writer Peter Tomasi claimed "dibs" on for Batman and Robin.

I suppose it could be Batman's brother, or the guy who thinks he's Batman's brother, from the first year of the New 52 Batman. We should find out soon, as Batman Eternal begins to near its spring 2015 end date.

This issue, penciled by Alvaro Martinez, inked by Raul Fernandez and scripted by Kyle Higgins, pits Hush against first Julia Pennyworth and then Batman himself. Meanwhile, the federal government seizes Wayne Enterprises and all its assets, since Hush was blowing up Wayne-sponsored secret weapons caches around the city in apparent terrorist attacks. This issue, then, finally gets us almost up to speed with events that occurred prior to first issue of new series Arkham Manor...which shipped its second issue this Wednesday.

In a weird-ish synchronicity, both this issue and this week's Deathstroke #2 feature villains sitting atop Game of Thrones homage thrones cobbled together from the weapons in the personal arsenals of the title characters:

Tony S. Daniel, Sandu Florea, Tomeu Morey

Alvaro Martinez, Raul Fernandez, Brad Anderson

Weird, right?

Batman '66 (DC) This was one of the stronger issues of Jeff Parker's Batman '66 in a while, I thought, as King Tut appears yet again as the Dynamic Duo's diabolical d—



Despite the concerted efforts of Dr. McElroy's new professorial peers at Harvard to keep him from getting conked on the head and reverting to his King Tut personality, the inevitable happens on page 2, and so King Tut returns to Gotham in a supercharged chariot dubbed "The Sarcarphagus" to blanket the city with the Osiris Virus, which turns everyone who breathes it into zombies.
There's also a throwaway gag involving Bookworm, a robot dinosaur wearing a top hat and cape and a literary pun, which adds up to this being an all-around rather wild story. Parker's collaborator here is arist Scott Kowalchuk, who gets to design some pretty cool-stuff, and whose regular characters have a nice, rough-hewn look about them.

Still waiting on an issue with interior art by cover artist Mike Allred, preferably one starring Batgirl...

Gotham By Midnight (DC) Following Arkham Manor, this is the second new ongoing series to spin out of the events of the still in-progress Batman Eternal series (third, if you count Catwoman, which received a completely new creative team and such a drastic change in direction following the character's role in Batman Eternal that it might as well be an entirely new series, despite not rolling the dial all the way back to #1 on the cover).

Like Arkham Manor, it's launching before Batman Eternal has quite caught up to the point where the series begins—Jim Corrigan disappeared after transforming into The Spectre and destroying Arkham Asylum during a supernatural battle with the ghost of Deacon Blackfire, and hasn't been seen since—but, also like Akrham Manor, it doesn't really matter overmuch. Everything you need to know about the comic is in the comic itself.

Oh, and one more similarity: Like Arkham Manor (and Gotham Academy, and the new directions for Catwoman and Batgirl), this title has a very distinctive look. Here that's down to artist Ben Templesmith, who apparently handles every aspect of the art, right down to the coloring. While I can think of other artists whose work Templesmith's style slightly suggests—Sam Kieth for one—no one currently working for DC draws anything like Templesmith, which goes a long way toward making the book look so different and, therefore, special.

Whether it's the fact that Templesmith is hand-drawing the dialogue balloons, or if that is all letterer Dezi Sienty, it's well worth pointing out that the letters in this book also look different from those in all 40-some other comics in DC's "New 52" line.

The premise of the book, written by Ray Fawkes, is actually generic enough to be tired, even exhausted—law enforcement agents that deal specifically with the supernatural—but that premise at least feels fresh because of the setting of Gotham City and the presence of Jim Corrigan. It's essentially a new direction for a Spectre strip, The Spectre by way of Gotham Central.

Our point-of-view character is hard-ass skeptic and Internal Affairs officer, Sergeant Rook. He comes to investigate Precinct 13 (get it?) one night, with the intention of shutting the whole weird affair down. It's run by Jim Corrigan, who has apparently become a Gotham City policeman* sometime between Arkham exploding in Batman Eternal and now (presumably that's what the panel of Batman, Corrigan and Commissioner James Gordon on the first page is meant to intimate happening?), and is staffed by just two other police officers and two consultants, a mad scientist type and a nun.

Naturally Rook's investigation allows us to meet the characters and get to know, or at least get a sense of, each of them, and it is just as naturally interrupted by a case (Batman shows up for a few panels, hands Corrigan a bunch of files which the ghost cop spreads out like tarot cards, and then he plucks the one that happens to be supernatural).

Unfortunately, while Fawkes and Templesmith do a fine job of introducing the basic premise and sketching out the characters, we don't really get to follow a case from start to finish. There just aren't enough pages, so that when he hit the cliffhanger on the 20th page, it feels like we're just hitting the first commercial break in the pilot episode of an hour-long TV drama. In other words, we don't really have enough to go on in terms of deciding whether this is something to continue watching or not.

Despite the TV-ready aspects of the comic, it doesn't read much like a pitch for a TV show—one that looks a hell of a lot more entertaining and less convoluted and off-putting than Gotham, by the way—thanks mostly to Templesmith's very unusual art. The way it's written, it could perhaps be reverse-engineered into a TV script with no problem. But it's drawn like it was meant to be a comic book.

I don't entirely know The Spectre's whole deal in the rebooted universe of The New 52—from what little I've seen of him in Batman Eternal, Corrigan doesn't seem to have any real control of when or how to access The Spectre's power—but in this case, losing all knowledge of the character in the reboot actually serves to make him more mysterious.

Madman In Your Face 3D Special (Image Comics) I sorta wish I would have read the back cover of this oversized, ad-free, 80-page, $9.99 3D book before I made the purchase; if so, I would have realized that it featured “classic Madman stories rendered in 3D…as well as a new short story.”

Not that I remembered any of those stories, although I had a real sense of déjà vu while reading “Swiped From Dimension X!”, in which “Mr. Excitement” tries to bring Madman back from the brain-dead, by urging him to shake off various fictions, the practical result of which means we get to see Mike Allred impersonate just about every comics creator, cartoonist, illustrator or animator he admires or likes from throughout history, a 25-page story consisting of some 19 pages of Allred affecting the styles of other artists, sometimes as many as 22 per page.

There’s also “Become Like They Are,” a Madman and The Atomics story consisting of 14 consecutive double-page spreads, the dialogue and multiple images suggesting side-scrolling implied panels; “Sinkhole Skyuoobuz!,” a five-pager in which Madman confronts an author seemingly making a killing off his likeness; and a one-page Little Nemo-inspired strip, which reads in an incredibly easy-to-follow spiral.

The rest of the book consists of 20 pin-ups by a wide variety of artists, including such EDILW favorites as Marcos Martin, Paolo Rivera, Maris Wicks and Ian Bertram. Most of these feature Madman and The Atomics, although the Bob Burden one features Madman and (who else?) The Flaming Carrot.

My favorite of these was probably Nick Dragotta’s, as it makes great use of the 3D to have Madman hitting the reader in the face with his trusty yo-yo, although Maris Wicks' is pretty great too, in the way she creates a three-dimensional Mad Man logo as a sort of gravity-less platform, with the excite-ning bolt forming the sides, and Madman, The Atomics and other supporting characters dancing all around it.

Oh, and Aaron Conley’s is pretty rad; open mouths look pretty awesome in this thing.

As for the 3D, it is among the best—if not the best—3D effects I’ve ever seen in a comic book. I think Alan Moore and company made the best use of 3D in that one, big, particularly crazy League of Extraordinary Gentlemen book, but what this lacks in literary value, it makes up for in incredible effects. The colors are rather necessarily washed out, so everything has a sickly green-gray lilac look. Color is such a big factor in what makes Allred’s books so great that it’s greatly missed here, but probably worth sacrificing on this one occasion just to see what Madman comics look like in your face.

New 52: Futures End #30 (DC) This is it! The battle for Cadmus Island, as Green Arrow (Earth-New 52 Oliver Queen), Red Arrow (Earth-2 Oliver Queen), Big Barda and The (lame-ass New 52) Outsiders storm the beaches and take on Brother Eye's OMACs and mind-controlled Earth-2 superheroes.

There's a brutal death in this issue (page 9), and it was a genuinely shocking one, given the character's prominence throughout the series so far (that said, with god-like Fifty Sue a player in the series, I'm not so sure anyone who dies in this book is really dead unless she wants them to be). That, and it's just so sudden, even causal.

Unfortunately, what is presented as a sort of final fight against Brother Eye that culminates in the destruction of his main host body and the entirety of Cadmus Island is immediately undercut by the rather cheap, slasher flick-style ending, proving that little if anything was actually resolved-resolved by the big battle, a conflict that has been teased for months and months now.

Like last issue though, this one was devoted entirely to a single scene involving characters from several sub-plots, and thus had a greater sense of urgency, import and momentum that too many issues of the series have lacked.

My favorite part of the issue, however, is Lois Lane bragging about how she's going to write the story of the events of the day and what's been going on there to Green Arrow, despite the fact that she didn't actually see or learn anything at all while there; she basically just parachuted in, fought one OMAC, talked to her Earth-2 counterpart about nothing in particular, missed the battle and then talks tough to Green Arrow rather than, like, asking anyone any questions.

Tom Raney is the artist on this particular issue. He does a decent enough job.

The Superior Foes of Spider-Man #17 (Marvel Entertainment) Well, if you weren't reading Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber's Superior Foes—and based on the sales that apparently made this the final issue of the series, it would seem quite a few people were not—I hope you at least consider picking up the eventual collections (just as I hope Marvel doesn't include those weird fill-in issues by people who weren't Spencer and Lieber out of those collections).

A comedic crime comic featuring The Sinister Six—here consisting of 4-5 of Spider-Man's lesser foes, not the bottom of the barrel, but definitely the lower middle of the barrel—it had the look and feel of a 21st century crime comic, but the iconoclastic take that Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis brought to their Justice League comics in the 1980s.

It was fun, it was funny and it was exceedingly well put-together. While it's a bummer that the book won't show up in shops next month, it's great that it goes out on a high note (this was one of the better issues of the series, and I was surprised a few times while reading and I laughed out loud a few times), and it seems to go out as if it was always meant to go out like this. Nick Spencer resolves the hell out of the series, so that weird rando fill-in anthology issues aside, the entire comic reads like one big single story, where every sub-plot is resolve and every running gag remembered, with call-backs aplenty.

The character whose name is in the title finally makes an appearance (of sorts), the new don of New York is finally established, The Punisher eats something other than a cronut, The Owl eats maybe the only thing more disgusting than a hotdog, Dr. Doom appears long enough to deliver two fantastic lines, a nice visual joke is made at the expense of The Mets and we learn the final fates of just about every single character involved.

I don't know how much of this book will be honored elsewhere in Marvel's line, shared universe or not (The new don, for example), but this was a hell of a great monthly comic book, and will make a hell of a graphic novel when collected.

Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe #4 (IDW) Here is a brief synopsis of the events of this issue, the fifth in Tom Scioli and John Barber’s series (which kicked off with a #0 issue) violently smashing the two venerable 1980s toy franchises into one another.

Duke, undercover as a Cobra soldier (not sure why they didn’t use Chuckles for that, instead of sending him to invade Cybertron), is discovered and taken by Decepticon Frenzy and Cobra trainer Big Boa, but he manages to fight his way free, just in time to confront G.I. Joe defector Snake Eyes; the two fight before the space gateway to Megatron’s throne room on Cybertron, tumbling through it.

In the bowels of G.I. Joe base T.H.E. P.I.T., Cobra defector Dr. Venom does some crazy-ass occult ritual on the remains of the Transformers he’s been tasked with figuring out.

Meanwhile, between Earth and Cybertron, all of the Joe pets are wearing special weapons systems, and being lead by Shipwreck’s parrot Polly** and flying in a Joe ship shaped like Snoopy’s head called U.S. 7 (Like We3, get it? There are seven animal Joes, and the abbreviation for “United States” is spelled the same as a synonym for “we”). Their ship is at the head of a sky full of missiles aimed at Cybertron.
They are boarded and attacked by the new Oktober Guard, who are original (re-)creations of Scioli and Barber, now scary, horror-themed, monster-soldiers rather than generic Soviet Stereotypes. These are all intercepted and swallowed by giant Transfomer Fortress Maximus.
On Cybertron, a Joe strike force is painting targets for all those missiles, when they are captured by Hotrod, an Autobot now working a menial job for the Decepticons. He’s attacked by Blaster, whom he defeats and rescues, just before the missiles hit.

Back in the Joes’ terraformed “Green Zone,” Bazooka emerges from an exploding port-a-potty, toilet seat around his neck, and discovers all the Joes and Transformers we thought died last issue are all actually alive.

Then Metroplex arrives, disgorging the team of captured Joes along with the Autobots and their self-appointed king, Grimlock.

Grimlock declares a truce, they have a dance party, Bazooka eats a leaf of the terra-forming bomb, which self-evolving, constantly transforming Transformer planet Cybertron has begun hybridizing with, and trips balls, being given a drug induced vision and the mysterious command “PRIME US.”
See? I am not making any of this up.
Grimlock explains the history of the Transformers war and Prime’s war in it during a section marked “Grimlocrypha,” and the still-fighting Snake Eyes and Duke are plucked out of the void by a half transformed Optimus Prime, seemingly fused into a weird new shape with this many accessories.

That’s one issue of this book, which is so packed with cameos, allusions, in-jokes and obscure references it reads like a Quentin Tarantino adaptation of Grant Morrison’s Multiversity. Where are the annotations of this comic…?

Oh, that’s right; Scioli and Barber provide them themselves, in the four pages of story commentary that follow the 20 pages of awesome comics that is Transformers vs. G.I. Joe #4.

These, as usual, prove every bit as fun as the comics themselves. There is a lot of fun language used in the comics, from the Joes repeatedly using the word “Gobot” as some sort of slur against the Transformers (I wonder if the Gobots cartoon show and toy line existed in this universe, or if they just coincidentally settled on it as an insult for giant transforming robots?) or the use of "Stereanko" as a verb, but so too is there fun language in the story notes, such as a reference to Dr. Venom using the “Decepticonecronomicon.”

*I used to think that would be a good idea for a Martian Manhunter series; to have J'onn J'onnz's civilian identity get a job as a Gotham City police detective, where he'd catch all the strange and unusual X-File cases, due to his uncanny abilities to solve the strangest of cases. It would certainly be an easier way to sell a Martian Manhunter solo series anyway, as sticking just about any DC character in Gotham City wouldn't do anything to hurt sales.

**In both the original Hasbro toyline and the original cartoon series, Shipwreck's parrot was named "Polly." Here he's referred to as "SEASICK aka POLLY." A few minutes of Internet research tells me that a contest was held to name Shipwreck's parrot in the pages of a Marvel UK comic book entitled Action Force, and "Seasick" won. Scioli explains in the story commentary that "Polly is Shipwreck's affectionate nickname for Seasick. Or maybe it's the other way around."

3 comments: said...

I haven't visited my LCS yet and therefore haven't yet read the last issue of Superior Foes, but I skimmed your review and can respond to a few things you mentioned-

For one, Nick Spencer has said in an interview with CBR that he only ever had 12 issues in mind for the title, and that the publisher let them stick around to finish up [even stretching out their run with the fill-in issues, which I also didn't like very much].

The other thing is that Nick Spencer is writing that new Ant-Man series, and the cover to #1 features the new Beetle. The Superior Foes may be disbanded [or at least I assume they will be], but at the very least one of them will be sticking around for comics to come [or at least for a single issue]-

Bram said...

Yeah, those Superior Foes trades have those weird fill-in stories, it says so right here in the … oh, wait, they're not publicizing that?

Also, Spencer and LIeber are reuniting over at Image. (Beagle, sure, but how bummed am I that it isn't a Corgi?)

SallyP said...

I haven't been getting Superior Foes of Spider-Man, which is foolish on my part, but I WILL be getting the Trade!

Yeesh, that whole thing with OMAC is still going on?