Tuesday, November 18, 2014

DC's February previews reviewed

Further cementing her role as DC's answer to Deadpool, the new, New 52 version of Harley Quinn is the theme around which the publisher's February variants are organized around. Each of the "Harley Quinn Variants" will feature the suddenly surprisingly popular character—whose comics suddenly started selling like hotcakes after Jimmy Palmiotti, Amanda Conner and Chad Hardin relaunched Harley Quinn as title playing up the character's comedy and cheesecake potential.

Conner provides three of the covers herself, including the above Superman one, as well as covers for Aquaman and The Flash. As with several of the last few rounds of variant programs—The Flash variants, the Darwyn Cooke-draws-all-the-variants and the Michael Allred-draws-all-the-variants—the Harley Quinn variants are quite striking in that they are in almost every case better, funnier, more fun and more lighthearted than the comics they are appearing atop of...at least when comparing them to the regular covers provided, and the solicitation copy.
I mean, wouldn't you rather read an issue of The Flash where Harley Quinn volunteers to fill-in for Superman when he fails to show up at the annual Flash/Superman race for charity...because Harley tricked him into answering a signal watch on the wrist of a lead robot Jimmy Olsen with a Kryptonite heart than, let's see, what's going on in the flash in February...?
Barry Allen is trapped in the Speed Force while an impostor wreaks havoc at home! Can The Fastest Man Alive make it back in time to put things right?
Yeah, that sounds hella-boring, and it's drawn by Brett Booth, not Amanda Conner.

Well, at any rate, here's what DC Comics intends to publish in February of next year, and here are my thoughts on the matter...

I really love co-writer Cameron Stewart's cover for Batgirl #39; the Harley variant is kinda cute too, and by Cliff Chiang, but not as striking an image.

It's worth noting that February's issue of the still-not-canceled Secret Origins will feature a Batgirl origin story by regular series writers Stewart and Brenden Fletcher, but with art by the amazing Irene Koh rather than regular series artist Babs Tarr, whose work is Batgirl's main selling point. Will this be the first appearance of the new Batgirl costume drawn in-story by someone other than Tarr...?

Batgirl's on the cover of that issue of Secret Origins too, in case you want to see what Bryan Hitch's version of the new Batgirl get-up looks like (Warning: It looks like another re-tread of The Killing Joke which, well, it will be interesting to see if and how Stewart and Fletcher filter that through the tone and sensibilities of their Batgirl).

Cute Jill Thompson cover for Batman #39. I know Greg Capullo never needs fill-ins, and he's a pretty great Batman artist, but imagine how cool a whole issue of a Batman comic by Thompson would look...?

Written by PETER J. TOMASI
Art and cover by PATRICK GLEASON and MICK GRAY
On sale FEBRUARY 18 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
Has Damian Wayne become something more than human? And how do you control a reckless child who now has super powers?

I have no idea how or why Damian's resurrection has apparently given him Superman powers (last month's cover showed him tearing open his shirt to reveal his Robin costume underneath it while bullets bounced off him), but that cover is fantastic. High five, Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray!

BATMAN ’66 #20
On sale FEBRUARY 25 • 40 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED E • DIGITAL FIRST
Gotham City has a new hero in town: Joker Man! Can it be? Has the Clown Prince of Crime now become a comedic crimefighter? This new Joker seems to be sincere about lassoing the lawless by rounding up all the criminals, including some of his former allies! In fact, he’s so good at it that the citizenry wonders if they still need Batman and Robin at all!

Speaking of fantastic covers...

I hope Procopio's interiors are half as awesome as Allred's cover, and that Williams' script is as much fun as it sounds.

Cover by JAE LEE
On sale FEBRUARY 25 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T+
Will Selina save Gotham City? Or will she burn it to the ground?

I really rather liked the first issue of the new Catwoman direction by Genevieve Valentine and Garry Brown, which, like Batgirl, seems like it probably should have been the New 52 relaunch of the character, based on what a 180 it was from the previous issues (although that might have been difficult, given Catwoman's ascension to the top of organized crime in Gotham City was so dependent on the circumstances of Batman Eternal.

But let's just look at that variant cover, shall we? I was at first puzzled by what the holy hell was even going on in it, it's so awkwardly staged (apparently, Catwoman is kicking apart Harley's hammer), and my eyes were next drawn to Harley's breasts, which seem stuffed into a too-small top in a way that is, well, surprisingly realistic-looking, a detail that stands out given that the image in general isn't exactly photorealistic.

I was generally shocked to see who was responsible for the cover—Jim Balent. The somewhat notorious talent that drew scores of issues of DC's first Catwoman monthly series, he and a handful of different writers—Jo Duffy, Chuck Dixon, Doug Moench, Devin Grayson—transformed her from a villain into a vigilante crime-fighter who dabbled in jewel thievery as a sort of hobby following the events of "Knightfall."

His Barbie doll proportioned Selina Kyle, and her not-exactly-practical costume lead pretty directly into Darwyn Cooke's revamp of the costume; the Cooke-driven relaunch of Catwoman seemed to be in large part a reaction to the Balent-drawn volume of Catwoman comics that preceded it.

Balent went on to do whatever the hell he likes with his own, self-published Tarot, Witch of the Black Rose comic, which I have never read an issue of, but he's been at it so long I assume he's happy doing it, and successful enough that he can keep doing it.

So I was a little surprised to see him drawing anything for DC, even if just a single variant cover. But also delighted. I liked Balent's work back in the day; his style in those old Catwoman comics didn't age necessarily well, but I liked the way he drew all the characters, especially his Batman (and Scarecrow!).

Here his art isn't even recognizable (to me) as that of the same guy, but I guess it has been 20 years or so. I'm guessing it's largely the coloring, which gives the figures a sickly, wax dummy-like appearance. The way Catwoman's kicking though, that's definitely a Balent pose. And, looking closely, they've definitely got Balent proportions...although, like I said, Harley's breasts look remarkably realistic, at least in the way they get smooshed like real breasts when wearing a super-tight corset (Also, that's a really nice background and, if you look closely, you'll find a cat shape hidden in it, something Balent used to do with his covers for the Catwoman).

Given his long tenure on the character, I've always been kind of curious as to what Balent's version of the "new" Catwoman costume would look like and, if nothing else, I guess this variant answers that question.

Is it odd that in a month in which various artists draw the scantily clad Harley Quinn, and one of those artists is Jim Balent, that it's someone other than Balent who draws the most scantily-clad Harley?

Here the always excellent Fan Panosian has reduced Harley's shorts to panties for the variant cover of Grayson.

Joe Quinones provides the Harley variant for this month's Justice League Dark, and it may be the best of 'em all.

Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? does not have a Harley variant cover, but they could have used a pretty similar scheme on theirs is they did.

Art and cover by JIM LEE and SCOTT WILLIAMS
On sale FEBRUARY 18 • 48 pg, FC, $4.99 US • RATED T
Superstar writer Grant Morrison joins legendary artist Jim Lee on Earth-10 for one of the most dynamic, action-packed issues of this entire world-shattering series – THE MULTIVERSITY: MASTERMEN!

Imagine a world where the Nazis not only won World War II but went on to direct world culture for the next 60 years with the help of an orphaned, alien super-weapon known as Overman! But hope is not lost! Rising from the ashes of oppression are a diverse band of heroes raging against the fascist regime – a band of heroes known as THE FREEDOM FIGHTERS!

What nightmarish parallel worlds haunt the dreams of Overman? Who is the mysterious figure called Uncle Sam? And when the dust settles, will the actions of Phantom Lady, Black Condor, Human Bomb, Doll Man and The Ray be enough to stop Leatherwing, Blitzen and the other “heroes” of Earth-X?

Learn all this and more in this exciting issue that acts as chapter seven of the critically acclaimed MULTIVERSITY storyline.

Well, the most interesting issue of Morrison's Multiversity series is the one that's to be released this week, Pax Americana, as it's the one dealing with Earth-4/The Charlton Comics characters...or, in other words, The Watchmen issue (I never really understood why DC bothered with Before Watchmen instead of just doing something like this, using the Watchmen-inspiration characters that they could use without pissing off anyone or alienating anyone).

This one will present Morrison's re-worked version of Earth-X, home of the (most) of the Quality Comics characters, introduced into the pre-Crisis Multiverse as a place where the Nazi's won world World War II (I believe it was originally intended to be designated Earth-(swastika), but they had to trim the edges down to an X).

The comics Internet seems sort of excited that Jim Lee will be drawing this issue, and while I would be interested to see a Morrison/Lee collaboration just to see how it works out, I'm guessing the answer will be "not that well." I'm additionally concerned that it may result in the issue shipping late, and it's been a great pleasure getting one of these Multiverse books on a regular, monthly basis. I wouldn't mind at all if Morrison kept doing these forever, really.

Another point of interest here is that the post-52 relaunch of The Freedom Fighters, the team name given to the characters mentioned in the solicitation, was based on Morrison's notes, and that failed pretty spectacularly...I think more because of the terrible artists assigned than the writing team of Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, but then, Palmiotti and Gray aren't exactly a writing team I would expect to be able to take a hand-off from Morrison and run all the way to the end zone with it, either.

Here Morrison doesn't really need to re-create the characters to fit into the shared, only-mildly-rejiggered DCU "New Earth" that followed Infinite Crisis and 52, so, as I said, I'm curious to see Morrison writing his own version of the characters, ones without the sorts of restrictions smashing them into the DCU might require.

Also, I'm curious to see if we get other Quality Comics characters like Plastic Man, The Red Bee, Lady Luck or The Spirit (or Spirit analogue) showing up at all among the regular Freedom Fighters line-up, and what sounds like a Nazi JLA (Justice League of Aryans, maybe...?).

On sale APRIL 1 • 400 pg, FC, $39.99 US
2015 marks the 75th anniversary of Robin, the Boy Wonder! DC Comics is proud to present this new hardcover anthology collecting some of Robin’s greatest stories, featuring his adventures with Batman, the Teen Titans and more!

So far DC has published books like these on Superman, Lois Lane, Batman and The Joker, and they've all been pretty fascinating. Not simply because of the cross-section of stories they include, but also because of the editorial choices that went in deciding what to include and what to exclude. They serve as interesting snapshots as to where and how the publisher—or at least the folks putting these together—see the characters and who they consider their better creators (And, of course, there's the added difficulty of having to limit themselves to short stories—not hard in the Golden and Silver Age, but very hard after that—that stand on their own well enough to fit in a large but not that large anthology.

At this point, what I'm most interested in seeing in this book is whether they regard Robin as a character—Dick Grayson, the guy who appeared 75 years ago—or an office or title, held collectively by five characters throughout DC's mega-continuity (that is, the continuity that includes the continuity-altering events; whenever DC reboots, they do so in-story). There aren't any clues offered in this; even Dixon, who wrote probably the most Robin III Tim Drake stories, also wrote several featuring the original Robin.

Daphne in beach-wear! Oh, how Young Caleb would have been drawn to this cover!

Sadly, while cover artist Dario Brizuela does put her in a two-piece, he over-covers her in what looks more like a jog bra than a traditional bathing suit top. She is not, sadly, wearing a bikini. Also, someone seems to have stolen her belly button. Perhaps that's the mystery in this issue? (Man, I know these characters exist on a sliding timeline that keeps them forever teenagers, but it still seems wrong to me to see Daphne using an iPod and Beats instead of listening to a transistor radio).

Velma, meanwhile, is much more conservatively dressed in a one-piece suit...although she is remarkably svelte. I don't think I'll ever get used to the 21st century, hot Velma...

Ian Bertham should draw everything.

Written by PETER J. TOMASI
Art and cover by DOUG MAHNKE and JAIME MENDOZA
Superman and Wonder Woman come face-to-face with the newest arrival to The New 52: MAGOG!
This issue is also offered as a combo pack edition with a redemption code for a digital download of this issue.

I'm kind of looking forward to seeing what Tomasi and Mahnke can do on this title (their run officially begins with an issue shipping tomorrow), but I have to admit, the debut of New 52 Magog throws a bit of cold water on that enthusiasm.

And isn't "New 52 Magog" kind of redundant? Magog was the living embodiment of The New 52 something like 20 years before there even was a New 52.

Here are the two covers for Teen Titans #7, the Harley variant by Sean Galloway followed by the regular cover by "Bengal."

Galloway tries his damnedest to make the Titans—one of the two Power Girls in the New 52-iverse, Red Robin, Wonder Girl and Raven—look adorable as chibi-esque video game sprites, but not even making them into chibi sprites can save those costumes. Even rendered as cutely as possible, Raven still looks like someone who has been half-devoured by Giger monster.

But contrast it with the regular cover, of a burnt skeletal arm buried in an dark, ash-choked city.

Yeesh. Talk about contrast...

Art and cover by DAVID FINCH and BATT
On sale FEBRUARY 18 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
Wonder Woman returns to Paradise Island, and she’s in for a surprise: The Amazons have chosen a new queen to lead them! The identity of this new queen will send shock waves through the entire DC Universe! Guest-starring the Justice League and featuring the introduction of Diana’s craziest new cast member in, well, ever!

Here's another sharp contrast between the fun of the variants and the dark despair of the regular covers. Phil "Ideal Wonder Woman Artist" Jimenez draws a fairly serious variant cover, it's only real joke being Harley's presence in it, but compared to Wonder Woman on Finch's regular cover? At least, I think that's a Wonder Woman cover. Maybe it's actually for an upcoming issue of Psychology Today, with a cover feature on depression...?

As for the solicit, "Diana's craziest new cast member in, well, ever," huh? I find that hard to believe, considering the fact that Wonder Woman used to team up with herself as a toddler on a fairly regular basis.


culturewarreporters.com said...

That Catwoman variant is like some Greg Horn/Land-level business. If anything the attention to detail over the way the breasts work in that outfit contrasts with the Madam Tussauds feel of everything else.

Bram said...

You at least owe it to yourself to read Chris Sims' coverage of Tarot.

Caleb said...


I've read it in the past. I distinctly remember the haunted vagina post. Is Sims still on the TAROT beat...?

Andrew said...

That Jiminez WW cover makes me smile because it is directly homaging issue #251 of the original WW comic, in which Diana lost her title to another Amazon for 2 issues or so. It's one of the first comics I ever read and is still in my collection after all these years.

And I have to ask about Harley Quinn- why is she completely white-skinned now? In the original Dini/Timm version, she wore white face paint but underneath her costume, she just looked normal. Does she completely dip herself in white body paint every time she goes out now?

Caleb said...


Harley Quinn's new, New 52 origin is that after she falls in love with The Joker in Arkham and helps him escape, he shoves her into the same (or a similar) vat of chemicals that transformed him into The Joker, so now she, like he, has naturally bone-white skin.

As to why she didn't get a frozen, rictus grin, and her hair turned one half red and one half black, perfectly split down the middle, rather than green well, um, the origin stories didn't bring that up at all...

Caleb said...


Harley Quinn's new, New 52 origin is that after she falls in love with The Joker in Arkham and helps him escape, he shoves her into the same (or a similar) vat of chemicals that transformed him into The Joker, so now she, like he, has naturally bone-white skin.

As to why she didn't get a frozen, rictus grin, and her hair turned one half red and one half black, perfectly split down the middle, rather than green well, um, the origin stories didn't bring that up at all...

Andrew said...

Ah, good to know that it's as common sense based and well thought out as everything else in the New 52...