Thursday, April 30, 2015

Comic Shop Comics: Apil 29th

Convergence #4 (DC Comics) Telos takes over narating duties fom Dick Grayson, at least for a few pages, as the sentient planet holds Batman's head (or maybe just his cowl/helmet) aloft, sucks up all the dead Gotham villains in metal stuff, fixes Dick's spine, and gives him a brief tour of the battling cities. Meanwhile, Deimos leads the rest of the Earth-2 heroes underground to Skartarsis, with Telos in pursuit. Writer Jeff King proceeds to throw a lot of characters from the pages of the old Warlord comic at the reader, without even a token explanation as to who the hell all these people are.

The narrative at least takes a few unexpected twists, with the time travelers that Shakira had been piling up last issue being collectively referred to as "The Time Masters" and several more of them getting revealed (Hey, it's the intelligent machine colony from the 853rd Century version of Hourman, the one who starred in Hourman, one of my favorite non-Hitman comic books from DC!).

Also, I guess Braniac is trapped somehow, in what resembles a giant T-sphere, and he's in need of freeing...? That sure wasn't explained in the very, very long #0 issue of this series. Stephen Segovia still pencils, but here he has six other guys inking his work (in addition to himself). That's a lot of inkers for a single pencil artist, and seems to imply they were cutting this issue really, really close. So someone was running behind...or maybe there were changes being made at the last minute?

As with the previous weeks' issues of Convergence, this was decently executed, but by far the least interesting comic with the word "Convergence" on the cover that DC released this week.

Convergence: Plastic Man and The Freedom Fighters #1 (DC) A list of some of the things I enjoy most about comic books would include "Plastic Man," "The Freedom Fights," and "John McCrea," so it should go without saying that I was really looking forward to this book called Plastic Man and The Freedom Fighters drawn by John McCrea. Written by Simon Oliver (FBP, The Exterminators), the book highlights one of the most fun aspects of DC's current Convergence event: The chance to revisit old characters, concepts and settings in new work. Unlike many of the other books I was looking forward to in the first three weeks of the event, this one did not disappoint me at all.

Set on the pre-Crisis Earth-X, where the Nazis won World War II, Oliver imagines the handful of remaining superheroes acting as actual freedom fighters, living in a New York City that is actively resisting Nazi rule–they might have technically lost the war, but the Americans and the superheroes kept fighting anyway. Things go from pretty bad to much worse when the dome drops and the Freedom Fighters all lose their act that coincided with Plastic Man's plan to lure Nazi superhero The Silver Ghost to NYC so they could take him out. Instead, they got trapped in a city with one of the more ruthless and efficient leaders of the Reich.

As with most of the Convergence minis, this one is forced to deal with plot points that keeps it from fulfilling what one imagines would be a more fulfilling mission statement–i.e. using the opportunity to revisit old characters, concepts and settings in new works, as I mentioned earlier–as of course we have to hear about the dome, the loss of super-powers, how our protagonists spent their past year and, near the end, yet another repetition of Telos' speech and the threat of inter-setting conflict (Here, with the Future's End murder-bots). That obviously takes up a lot of time–too much time, really–and Oliver has Plastic Man (always called "Plastic," rather than "Plas" by his teammates) narrating, which makes the fact that he's being played straight a little more down that it would otherwise be. Oliver also uses a "dark" version of Woozy Winks which is always something that irritates me. Some characters you just can't do dark; you can play Plas straight, but for God's sake, leave his comedy sidekick out of it!

That said, the book is interesting in the fact that it features a Plastic Man we don't see very often (actually, we don't see Plastic Man at all anymore, do we? I can't remember the last time we've seen Plastic Man before the events of Flashpoint, unless you want to count what looked like his origin unfolding during the course of the Forever Evil event), and playing the role usually reserved for Uncle Sam in the Freedom Fighters' cast. They all get panel time, but aren't really given any real spotlight or anything. They're pretty interchangeable, really, and if they just called this Plastic Man instead of Plastic Man and The Freedom Fighters, it still wouldn't have seemed weird at all.

McCrea's artwork didn't disappoint a bit, and it was refreshing to see his line work in a DC Comic again, drawing some of the more off-beat Golden Agers in DC's vast character catalog, and doing a fine job of playing them all straight in his depictions. McCrea in an artist who can vary his levels of "cartooniness" to suit the mood of the project, and here there's no sing of cartooniness, save for perhaps a jaunty angle here and there.

Convergence: Shazam #1 (DC) After Multiversity: Thunderworld Adventures, DC gives us another awesome Marvel Family comic that doesn't try to reinvent the character–an ongoing project of the publisher's since at least the 1980s, one that is apparently always doomed to failure, judging by the results–as much as celebrate the character as is. This isn't quite as much fun, nor as all-around inspired, as the Multiversity issue was, but then writer Jeff Parker has less room to work with than Grant Morrison did, his crossover has a less open set of "rules" governing it than Morrison's and, of course, most imporatntly, Parker is writing a tie-in to someone else's crossover story, rather than writing a chapter in his own story, as Morrison was.

The artist here is Evan "Doc" Shaner, an all-around great artist and a Captain Marvel fan to boot (and a perfect candidate for a Shazam strip should DC ever get around to doing another run of the weekly Wednesday Comics). His style is quite different than that of Cameron Stewart, who drew the aforementioned Multiversity one-shot that I can't help but compare this to, but not in a bad way; it's just different. Shaner draws all of these characters in a much more realistic fashion than Stewart or, indeed, most artists to tackle the Marvel Family this side of Mac Reboy, so there's an unusual amount of realism and elegance in his work.

The story is hobbled by the need to tie-in to Convergence, but not knee-capped. The Monster Society of Evil (here consisting of Dr. Sivana, Ibac, King Kull and Mister Atom) have captured all of their foes, and have them at their mercy. Without powers, Freddie Freeman Jr. and The Batsons are just little kids, unable to turn into superheroes...until the dome comes down at a fortuitous time. That and the arrival of a tiger in a snappy jacket help save the day...but just this day, there are dirigibles from the world of Gotham By Gaslight attacking, which will have to be dealt with next issue (Yeah, it's kind of weird that DC is apparently extrapolating a whole steam-punk Earth out of the events of the rather simple "What If Batman Fought Jack The Ripper...?" one-shot that kicked-off the concept of "Elseworlds," but at least that roots Earth-Steampunk to something they've published I guess. And there are certainly worse stories to direct curious readers to than Brian Augustyn, Mike Mignola and P. Craig Russell's 1989 Gotham By Gaslight).

While much of this first issue consists of Parker and Shaner essentially just "playing the hits" (I'm assuming, or maybe just hoping, that Mister Mind will appear in #2), I thought Parker's conception and portrayal of King Kull as a weapon's designer was pretty damn clever. .

The Multiversity #2 (DC) Well, here it is, the grand conclusion of Grant Morrison's nine-part epic that mapped the DC Multiverse once and for all, and provided a more or less definitive statement on the nature of DC Comics, how to read them, how to relate to them, and on the relationship between comic and reader. I was pretty bummed to read it, only because I would prefer to read another, oh, 40-some one-shots, set on the many variously numbered Earths that Morrison did not devote a full one-shot to (Not that he can't come back whenever he feels like it and do another one-shot or seven or 35, of course).

I'll likely talk about this later elsewhere (UPDATE: By which I mean here, now), but for now I just wanted to note that this was a very satisfying conclusion, even though I feel like The Multiversity: Guidebook #1 was probably the series true climax, this tied everything together quite nicely. Oddly, the thing I found most difficult to understand had to do with that two-page splash apparently showing off the Multiversal super-team (the line-up of which is spread across the covers of issue #1 and #2). It's only confusing because I can't imagine Morrison returning to those characters any time soon, nor can I imagine anyone else picking up where this story left off (between Convergence and the upcoming "Darkseid War," DC obviously has other plans for their Multiverse, which have little to nothing to do with Morrison's superior conception of it).

What else?

I liked Super-Demon, whose "secret identity" is apparently the priest Jason Blood; I was amused to see that an alternate Earth version of Etrigan, The Demon that bases him on Superman still looks and acts so much more like Jack Kirby's original Demon than the New 52 version of the character.

This was another awesome showcase for The Marvel Family and Dr. Sivana.

The Justice Riders' robot horses are the best thing ever.

I'm curious if Morrison knew this would be coming out a few days before Avengers: Age of Ultron was released, as it's weird how much panel-time The Avengers and Ultimates get in this thing.

The reveal on page 44 was fantastically executed.

I'd have to double-check some Showcase Presents, but I'm pretty sure that Morrison did Zatanna's spell wrong (the words are backwards, not the order of the words as well as the words themselves), but since she's an alternate Earth Zatanna, maybe it doesn't matter. It caused me to stumble a bit though.

And that's all I got for this evening. I read a bunch of other comics that were released in comic shops this Wednesday, but these are the only four I bought with my own money at my local comic shop so thus, by the rules governing this particularly column on my blog, these are the only four I'm offering quick, first-impression reviews of here. I should have links to several pieces to post tomorrow night, and writing about a mess of 4/29 releases in the near future.


Jer said...

I'm curious if Morrison knew this would be coming out a few days before Avengers: Age of Ultron was released, as it's weird how much panel-time The Avengers and Ultimates get in this thing.

So am I the only one who got to the reveal of the Big Bad and initially thought "wait - did Grant Morrison make Mark Millar and/or Brian Bendis the evil mastermind behind everything bad in this series"? 'cause the fact that the evil dude was based on Earth-7 (Ultimate Marvel) and had his mind-invading Gentry pushed back from invading Earth-8 (Original Marvel) made it feel like he was going for that momentarily (though that went away on a bit of reflection - I don't think it's supposed to be specific individuals that he's commenting on here).

It is interesting to me that a book about multiverse destroying reboots and the entities that feed off of them with so much action taking place between two obvious Marvel universe analogues came out during the months just before Marvel is kicking off their multiverse destroying reboot. But given that this has been in the works for a long time I suspect the exact timing is a coincidence (though clearly the statement that Morrison is making about modern superhero comics applies equally to Marvel as it does to DC, so maybe it was just prescience on his part and coincidence that it happened so close together.)

Also I want a Morrison penned Super-Demon series. But only if it includes the "Hellblazer" superhero version of John Constantine whose accent is so stupidly thick that I almost had to read the panels out loud to figure out what he was saying. (It's the same Hellblazer that was in that Doom Patrol parody issue of "This Man This Monster", I think, and I love it.)

Bram said...

"Writer Jeff King proceeds to throw a lot of characters from the pages of the old Warlord comic at the reader…" is the first thing I've heard that makes me want to read this.

Jacob T. Levy said...

"The Justice Riders' robot horses are the best thing ever. "

I beg to differ. Adam Familiar, the bizarro hero of two worlds, is the best thing ever.

Evan Dawson-Baglien said...

I think the Brainiac in the T-Sphere thing is from Futures End. Didn't he get shrunk and stuck in a T-Sphere in issue #44 of that series? I think Deimos is using the Time Masters' power to reach into the Futures End universe and contact Brainiac. It was Brainiac's defeat in Futures End that caused him to disappear and made Telos start acting on his own.

I find this plot point kind of weird because one of Brainiac's powers is his ability to make backup copies of himself. Why didn't one of those copies activate when he was imprisoned? In fact, why didn't he just leave a copy of himself behind to watch Telos while he was gone? Did he just forget he had that power? Or does Multiversal Brainiac lack that ability, even though he's supposed to be much stronger and more advanced than all the other versions of him in the Multiverse?

I do have to say that I'm happy to see Warlord characters. I suppose it might be confusing to people who haven't read that comic, but on the other hand, they're pretty archetypical sword-and-sorcery characters, so it might not be hard to pick up on what kind of people they are.