Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Comic Shop Comics: March 11-18

Please note: There are two covers. I got this one.
Batgirl #40 (DC Comics) This is the concluding issue of the first story arc of the new direction of Batgirl by Cameron Stewart, Babs Tarr and Brenden Fletcher, although it's well worth noting that each of the six issues that make up the arc have stood fairly well on their own as complete stories, with plotlines running through each (in that regard, it was somewhat like a TV show, much more so than a written-for-the-trade comic book arc). The cliffhanger ending of the previous issue was the revelation of who Batgirl's villain is, the character claiming to be the real Batgirl/Barbara Gordon, and here we learn the exact origins of that particular villain.

I'm not sure to what extent co-writers Stewart and Fletcher might have intended their arc to read as a sort of rebuttal to the previous, thirty-odd issues by Gail Simone—with their dark, ugly, angry and violent tone—but this sure seems to underline a major difference between their Batgirl and who she was (And to be fair to Simone, a large part of her portrayal of Batgirl was likely editorially mandated, as I'm sure she didn't decide all by herself that The Killing Joke was going to be the only post-Crisis story to remain in continuity).

So in this issue, Batgirl battles herself—rather literally—in order to save Burnside and all of the supporting characters we've been introduced to over the course of the last few issues.
Also, Batgirl and Black Canary totally make up just as the latter announces she's off to star in her own series (I honestly teared up a bit when they hugged in the second-to-last panel*) and, while I'm not 100% sure, I think the New 52 Oracle gets introduced in this issue, although "she" is facing away from the reader, for the sake of suspense.
By the way, among all of the trivial bullshit various comics professionals have been arguing about online in the past week that I half paid attention to, I could have sworn someone very talented, hard-working and professional pointed to Batgirl as an example of people wanting all the superheroines to "cover up."

Reading this, I wonder if that pro even reads Batgirl (a title whose title character who was never really un-covered, and went from wearing a goofy suit of Hollywood superhero movie battle armor to this more realistic, cosplayable homemade costume). Because not only is the book full of beautifully drawn beautiful people—like a CW drama, the cast of Batgirl seems to very between sexy and drop dead gorgeous—but I can't recall ever seeing Black Canary wearing less clothes than she did in this issue.
Of course, that's what she was wearing to perform in a rock show, not fight crime in.

I was a little taken aback by this, the first page in a four-page house ad for DC's upcoming, two-month Convergence event, which appeared in all of the DC books I got that were released this week:
DC and Marvel quite often seem to parallel one another in eerie ways—both Convergence and Secret Wars sound remarkably similar in an abstract synopsis—but I found the working on this page weird, as that is exactly the conflict of Jonathan Hickman's New Avengers run, which has been leading up to Secret Wars since it launched a few years ago.

Batgirl: Endgame #1 (DC) Jeez Babs, such language!

First off, I'm glad that DC decided to go this route for their tie-ins to the current Batman story arc, rather than having it intrude on the regular titles as they previously did with "Death of The Family" and "Zero Year," as those ended up interrupting the other books in sometimes weird ways, and lead to some weir collections. Also, while I'm reading Batgirl monthly, I'm reading Batman in trade, so it will be a few months before I get to the "Endgame" story arc, and I wasn't sure I'd be able to follow along.

I was actually planning to skip this book, assuming it would be collecting with all the other tie-ins in an eventual Endgame trade, but then I noticed that the regular writing team was still writing (Cameron Stewart does not provide breakdowns, however), and while it's missing Babs Tarr's art, maybe the chief pleasure of Batgirl, the art inside was so gorgeous I didn't want to not read it.

That's provided by Bengal, of whom I know nothing. Is Bengal a man, woman, or tiger...? I don't know. But Bengal's art is, as I said, gorgeous.

The biggest difference between this book and the regular issues of Batgirl, however, is that while each of the current creative team's issues on the monthly have been very full, very satisfying reads, this took about three to five minutes to read, and that's with occasional pauses to drink in Bengal's expressions or laugh at Babs having a Batsmiley emoticon on her Batphone.

That's mostly because this is a silent issue.

Now, I have no idea what's going on in "Endgame," although it appears to involve The Joker jokerizing the Justice League and the populace of Gotham City, as he did in Joker's Last Laugh. Here it appears that the Joker venom turns people into rictus-grinned zombies (had they different expressions, this wold just read like a zombie comic), and they appear to be attracted to sound, like the zombies in World War Z (the movie; I didn't read the book).

That would explain why this is a silent issue.

As for the plot, it's so tangental to "Endgame" that one need not have any idea what's going on in it; "The Joker has jokerized people" is the takeaway as it applies to this book, and it's apparent from what's in the issue itself. Batgirl is helping to evacuate the non-Jokerized, and she saves a little girl from the Joker zombies, through a combination of punching, kicking, coaching, bus-crashing and hang-gliding.

Beautiful art, lots of action, a few funny moments—it's worth reading, but man, I was acutely aware of how goddam expensive comic books are these days while I did so.

Batman Eternal #49 (DC) Okay guys, quit screwing around. There are only three more issues to go in this series. That's sixty pages. That is not very much time to reveal the identity of your mystery villain (It's not Cluemaster is it? Is that why he gets a scene in this issue? No, that wouldn't make sense...), have a climactic battle and then work on some sort of denouement in which various characters have their new status quos revealed (and so much has changed in this issue, it's actually going to take some pages to reveal things like how many Pennyworths will be leaving in the Batcave, where Bruce Wayne will live, where the criminally insane will be incarcerated, what Jim Gordon's next job will be, etc).

This issue has another great cover by Cliff Chiang, and interior art that's less so—but not bad at all—by Fernando Blanco. At least Chiang has the advantage of being a little more symbolic on his cover than Blanco had to be in his interiors. In the scene depicted on the cover, Bane is actually wearing a giant suit of robot armor, and Baman appears to be about to ram him with a fighter jet, despite the fact that he's on a crowded city street (I'm pretty confused about what's going on with Bane in general here; he put on a giant robot suit of armor to fight in a cage match for the entertainment of the patrons of a dive bar in Gotham? And then he fought The Red Hood for a few issues? And here he just sort of wanders away from Red Hood? Maybe it's not Bane, but a Bane mask on a robot; he barely even talks, let alone gloat and speechify like Bane, after all).

So in this issue, scripted by Kyle Higgins from Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV's plot, Jim Gordon and Alfred Pennyworth both get to beat the hell out of major Batman villains, the sidekicks all have their equipment restored so they can continue their fights with the various "leveled up" Arkham escapees, Cluemaster has an exchange with Spoiler which seems to indicate they both know who the real villain is, and, as previously mentioned, Batman flies a jet at Bane.

The series has grown rather frustrating for me, but in a good way, I suppose, as I'm frustrated by not knowing the solution to the mystery. I just hope it's not who I suspect it is, and that it turns out that Snyder and the rest of the writing team have been playing fair with us all along. And that the resolution and denouement of this gigantic story arc turns out to be a satisfying one, whether it occurs in this title or elsewhere.

Batman Eternal #50 (DC) Hooray, the ultimate villain of the piece is finally revealed and it's not who I feared it would be. In fact, series plotters Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV ended up playing fair: It was a character who appeared early in the series, and was checked in on throughout the series, and never explicitly eliminated as a suspect (There's no scene where he flat out tells Batman it's not him, or shows an invitation from another villain indicating that he was just one more player in this grand Take Down Batman scheme). I think there was a bit where they cheated early on in the series that rather ruins the reveal here, but I don't want to discuss that here—hell, the guy on the last page of this issue who is claiming responsibility may not actually be responsible, but I rather expect it's him, as there are only two more issues left to go.

All in all though, I like the villain used for several of them being that it's a villain I've never, ever been the least bit interested in (So you know it's not The Scarecrow then, right?) and another what a surprise it is that it's him.

So once again we have a pretty incredible Cliff Chiang cover, of the sort that really makes one wish he was drawing interiors for this or another Batman series. I especially like how his Tim Drake looks like a teenager and his Batgirl looks young, but significantly older (and taller!) than Tim. Chiang also does a nice job of drawing them all banged-up pretty badly, but still making it clear that this is not a group you want to fuck with, no matter how many pints of blood they might be down. Batgirl still looks tough and determined, like she's getting her second wind; Batman looks like he's about to rip someone in half. Also, the color scheme—Chiang seems to have colored this himself—mutes the more garish, lame-ish aspects of Red Robin and Red Hood's costumes, while highlighting the characters' wounds.

Really a great, great cover. Unlike the other DC weekly I'm reading, Batman Eternal hasn't had a single cover artist throughout its run. While Ryan Sook's constant presence on the covers of Futures End have really allowed him to essentially tell the story of the book in 50-some images, Batman Eternal's covers vary in style and quality as often as the interiors do. After the last few weeks though, I kind I find myself wondering what the book might have looked like if every issue had a Chiang cover on it.

This issue opens with Batman having just crashed a fighter jet into Battle Armor Bane (yes, that's insane, and kind of dumb), and then Batman goes from sidekick to sidekick, helping them win their fights with their respective mini-bosses, before ascending to the rooftop where the first page of Batman Eternal #1 was set and meeting the mastermind of the whole plot.

Like I said, it's an interesting reveal, and it's more-or-less fair, which was something I was really starting to worry about, as so many clues pointed to it being a character that hadn't appeared in the series at all.

Alvaro Martinez pencils and Raul Fernandez inks this issue. It's a fine-looking book; not the best in the series by any stretch of the imagination, but not one of the worst ones either.

Frankenstein Underground #1 (Dark Horse Comics) The letters page of this comic opens with editor Scott Allie writing, "First of all, to anyone who picked this up because Mike Mignola doing Frankenstein was too good to pass up..."

Hey, that's me!

I did pick this up specifically because I thought it was Mignola doing Frankenstein—and it is—and because I assumed it was divorced from the "Mignola-verse" stuff, as it didn't have "Hellboy" or "BPRD" in the title or on the cover. When I picked it up to read it and saw the tiny "From the pages of Hellboy" atop the cover, I sighed. I haven't kept up with Hellboy at all. I started it in trade many, many years ago, but it just got so big that I've never had the time or sense of direction to sit down and read it all. I will someday, I'm sure.

Luckily, as Allie went on to explain, Mignola's Frankenstein and a few of the other characters in this issue did appear in previous titles, but having read those titles is not terribly important—certainly I didn't feel all that confused while reading the issue, even when Hellboy and Frankenstein's monster appeared in a Mexican wrestling ring together in a flashback—and what little history one needs to know is in the book itself.

Mignola restricts his drawing to the cover, which is really too bad, as I think his art style is a perfect match for this character, particularly the square-headed, movie version, which seems to have informed the design a bit. He writes, with Ben Stenbeck providing the interior art and Dave Stewart coloring. I liked Stewart's art quite a bit, it's got a touch of the Mignola-esque about it, particularly when drawing monsters and totems and creepy people, but is otherwise a bit rounder, softer, fuller...more realistic, I guess.

It's the mid-1950s, and the monster stumbles upon a witch in a temple in the jungle. He recounts his life story to her, in a series of panels that show the troubles he's endured over the century and a half of life he's had since his creation, while a guy who looks like George Washington watches him in a magic mirror, and sends one of his several strange minions after Frankenstein, intent on adding him to his collection.

It's really too bad that I read most of the Dark Horse comics I read in trade format, because their serially published comics are a pretty great package. It's 22-pages of ad-free comics, a four-page preview of an upcoming Mignola book, and a two-page letters page—for $3.50, a nice compromise price between DC's standard $2.99 and Marvel's standard $3.99, but with more content presented in a more reader-friendly way.

As for the title, it looks like it may be quite literal, as this issue ends with Frankenstein plunging into darkness when the temple he's in collapses on him. I'm hoping he lands in Wonderland, but only because Frankenstein's Adventures In Wonderland would be awesome. Not that this is shaping up to be the least bit shabby or anything. I just want to see Frankenstein flip the table at the Mad Tea Party and go "HHRRNNNGH!" to all the wordplay the Wonderlanders through at Alice, I guess is what I'm saying.

Lumberjanes #12 (Boom Studios) This appears to be the end of the Noelle Srtevenson and Shannon Watters-written, Carolyn Nowak-drawn story in which Mal, Molly and Bear Woman go to the land of dinosaurs to recover the lost reading glasses of "B-Dubs," while the remaining 'janes try and fail to earn easy merit badges.

This comics has dinosaurs fighting dinosaurs in it, and is therefore worth your time.

The New 52: Futures End #45 (DC) Hmm, I wonder if this would have been a more satisfying read if, instead of actually published 53 issues of a 20-page comic on a weekly basis, they just put out a single, oversized 53-page comic featuring nothing but Ryan Sook's covers, and let readers just imagine what was happening between those static images? The covers are often very nice, after all, and each tell a bit of a story, at least in that they suggest major events.

This one maybe a little les so, although it does check in with four different groups of characters—five, if you separate Superman from Captain Marvel Shazam, Firestorm and Dr. Polaris—at least suggesting what they might be facing or dealing with, in terms of tone or mood if not specifics.

This week's issue is drawn by Stephen Thompson, Jack Herbert and Vicente Cifuentes, and the story they're tasked with drawing seems to be one that's entered the tying-up of loose ends phase. Unlike Batman Eternal, there's no mystery mastermind to puzzle out here, as the main villain was revealed at the beginning of the story and the series has been all about stopping him/it from coming to power, and what's next for the characters and plot lines started here is pretty apparent: It will continue, or at least lead in to, Convergence.

Frankenstein dies in Amethyst's arms, giving her new resolve. Superman, Shazam and Firestorm do some clean-up in New York City, with assistance from Dr. Polaris...until he escapes. The book reminds us that King Faraday, Sgt. Rock and some dumb lady superheroes that filled up page-space earlier in the series still exist. And Mr. Terrific, The Atom, the Batmen and friends realize that as bad as Brainiac might have been, Brother Eye is going to be whole other problem. The book ends with Brother Eye turning the corpses of all those dead SHIELD agents into cyborg zombies, which, you'll recall from the nightmare future of the #0 issue, is what he did with all the dead superheroes in 2044.

The New 52: Futures End #46 (DC) Skynet Brother Eye is online, cyborg murder-bot zombies are shambling around and it looks like Terry McGinnis has failed to prevent the nightmare future he traveled back to the year 2019 to stop. But he's got a plan! Send someone else back to the right time, that is, the present, in order to stop all of this from happening. He does this by giving his time belt to Batman 2019, Mister Terrific and The Atom, telling the super-geniuses, "Hey, I've got a time-travel device. Fix it and save the future." Why didn't he do this in, I don't know, issue #5? Because this is a year-long weekly series.

He also totally dies this issue (That's not a spoiler is it? It's on the cover). But I wouldn't worry too much, as another Batman is going to go back in time to fix all this crap—and I assume that will explain how this ties into Earth 2: World's End and Convergence—and he's got a new monthly book coming up in June.

Scot Eaton penciled and Scott Hanna inked this issue, which also seems to provide a happy ending of sorts for Grifter, Earth-2 Lana Lang and Fifty Sue, who end up having pretty much nothing at all to do with the overarching story arc, aside from being among the earlier characters to run afoul of Brother Eye. So what exactly was the point of the whole Grifter/Cadmus/Fifty Sue storyline? Oh right; year-long weekly series.

Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman #8 (DC) The biggest disappointment about this issue is the cover. It's a really nice cover by Jae Lee, of course, but, well, it promises the Silver Age Justice League—look, there's J'onn J'onnz in his original costume and with his regular head and everything!—but they're just on the cover for, um, some reason. Wonder Woman is the only character on the cover who actually appears insdie the book.

I really like Wonder Woman's expression on that cover. I imagine the heroes are all supposed to be looking up at...something, bt Wonder Woman looks like she's regarding the logo of her book, and not feeling particularly enthused about it.

This $3.99 issue has two stories in it, the first of which is one of the better I've read in this anthology series. It's written by James Tynion IV, who is not a guy I would have expected had a really great, really funny Wonder Woman story in him based on his previously published work, and drawn by Noelle Stevenson, who I would have expected to have a really great, really funny Wonder Woman story in her, based on her previously published work.

In their story, "Wonder World," a 15-year-old Diana visit Man's World and discovers a few of its joys, like ice cream, friendship, rollerskating, ice cream, video games and ice cream. It's great stuff, and oh how I wish it wasn't just a single story in the Wonder Woman anthology book, but the first issue of a new Wonder Girl series by Tynion and Stevenson.

That's followed by writer Heather Nuhfer and artist Ryan Benjamin's much more conventional story, in which Wonder Woman does more typical superhero stuff: Punches meteors, fights robots, discovers and thwarts corporate sabotage by Lex Luthor. It's basically a Superman story with Wonder Woman playing the part of Superman. Benjamin's art is art is incredibly dynamic, but sacrifices clarity in a few key moments.

SpongeBob Comics #42 (United Plankton Pictures) The latest issue of this criminally under-appreciated series—Criminally, I say! People should go to jail and do hard time for not appreciating this comic sufficiently!—is a "special interactive issue," and I'll be damned if every single story in the thing doesn't have some clever interactive component, from the cover, to the inside front cover, to the eight stories within to the fold-in back cover. There are search and finds, "spot the differences," finish-drawing-the-images, a mixed-up strip you an cut-out and paste together, a choose-your-own-adventure strip (or two), and so on. Al Jaffe (!), Graham Annable, James Kochalka, Jason Shiga, Dave Roman, Michael T. Gilbert and Travis Nichols, and Jacob Chabot are among the cartoonists who contributed to this issue, which, in addition to being of high quality, is simply impressive for he quantity and variety of its different takes on interactivity.

*Last night I read Kinoko Inu - Mushroom Pup Vol. 1, and I was sobbing at the end of the last chapter, when Mushroom Pup gives Hotaru his message. That is one great comic.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the heads-up about Mignola's Frankenstein's monster. Shame he's not drawing it. Shame he's not doing anything outside the BPRD-verse, really. I want more Screw-On Head.

Bram said...

At the LCS, Batgirl sales have settled into about the same as the Simone issues. Very few of the same readers, though.