Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Comic Shop Comics: April 15

Archie Vs. Predator #1 (Dark Horse Comics) Hey look, it's Governor Jesse "The Mind" Ventura's Blaine! And Richard Chaves' Poncho, reading Sergeant Croc instead of Sergeant Rock! And is that supposed to be Bill Duke's Mac and Elpidia Carrillo's Anna, aka The Only Woman In The Movie, hanging out with them at Dutch's Beach Bar? It's hard to say for sure, since Archie Comics house style, which artists Fernando Ruiz and Rich Koslowski employ in this unlikely-but-awesome crossover, doesn't exactly lend itself to celebrity likeness.

That corner of a large two-page spread was but one of several unexpected references to the original 1987 Predator film contained in the first, 23-page issue of this four-part series. It's a little pricey, and based on the relative high-quality of the variant covers, one might be better off awaiting the trade (as it's likely to contain all the variants0, but I liked it and thought writer Alex de Campi and company all did a very good job of having Predator invade Archie Comics, rather than doing a more straightforward crossover. As mentioned last week, I wrote about it at some length for Robot 6, so if you'd like more assessment than "It was pretty good" and "I rather liked it," click here.


Convergence #2 (DC Comics) Well, this was quite thoroughly not what I thought it would be, and three issues into the 9-part series—counting the #0 issue—I'm wondering if it isn't time to bail on it already. That is, in large part, because for the last 56-pages of so, it has been more of World's End continued than something bigger, broader or more interesting. When characters from other "realities" (i.e. other books) do appear, it is only briefly; cameos more than anything else.

This issue opens with Dick Grayson from Earth-2—not the original Earth-2 that will show up in th tie-ins in a few more weeks, but the New 52 Earth-2 from the pages of Earth 2 and Earth 2: World's End—narrating and reliving the events of the climax of World's End. He gets his son onto a refugee ship leaving their doomed world, only to see it destroyed immediately. Stricken with grief over having just sent his little boy off to die, he then tries to help the other heroes fight Darkseid, and then a bunch of them end up on Telos, as seen last issue.

The solicitation for this issue included this sentence: "And the cyborgs of Futures End engage in a battle to the death against the reimagined heroes of the Just Imagine Universe, while the city of Superman Red and Blue takes on the opposing forces from GENERATIONS!" While that's technically true, it kind of oversells it. The "Just Imagine Stan Lee..." universe is referred to in an odd way by Telos: "[T]his world, born of a great creator whose time was short-lived but who moved on to serve his purpose on another planet!" Is "short-lived" really any way to refer to Stan Lee? Certainly his time at DC was short-lived, but that was the whole premise of that particular project; and what exactly was his "higher purpose on another planet!"...? Made me wonder what Lee's next writing project was immediately after re-creating iconic DC superheroes in his own, startlingly different forms with the help of some great, high-profile artists...

Anyway, the "Just Imagine Stan Lee" heroes appear in all of three panels; during which thy are apparently all slaughterd by the murder-bots of Futures End's future. They're never introduced or identified—so I hope you remember that series of 2001-2002 one-shots they are from—and they get all of three lines of dialogue total.

As for Superman Red and Blue—the original, Silver Age versions, not the later, millennial versions—taking on the opposing forces from Generations, they all get two panels and no dialogue.

The most significant amount of time not spent reviewing the events of World's End or re-fighting Telos involve Earth-2's Batman II and Grayson visiting pre-Flashpoint Gotham City (currently home to Batman, Robin, Nightwing, Oracle, Batgirl, Black Bat, Red Robin, Red Hood, two Atoms, Superman, Supergirl, Zatanna, Mera, Vixen, Jade, Zatanna, The Flash Wally West, Catwoman, Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn, The Huntress, The Question, Batwoman, Arsenal, Donna Toy and Starfire) to recruit some help. All they get, however, are a Batmobile and a kevlar suit for Grayson.

I suppose the big emotional moment in this issue is meant to come when Batman Thomas Wayne meets Batman Bruce Wayne, and Earth-2 Dick Grayson meets pre-Flashpoint Alfred but, as Tom Bondurant pointed out, some of it felt off in terms of who recognizes who, and I found it particularly weird that Oracle and Alfred were using everyone's real first names in front of Grayson, who neither of them recognized as anything other than a mysterious invader of the Batcave.

The last page, in which they meet a minor character from an intriguing setting, promises that perhaps the third issue will be better, but if one didn't like Earth 2 or Earth 2: World's End, the fact that this book is little more than another Earth 2 by another name—so far, anyway—isn't exactly endearing.

Jeff King continues to write, so I suppose we can blame him for most of the disappointing plot elements and strange choices for what to focus on; Carlo Pagulayan and Jason Paz continue to draw, and they do a pretty great job of it. While this may feel an awful lot like Earth 2 continued, it looks better than any Earth 2 comics have in a while.


Convergence: Aquaman #1 (DC) The time period from which the participating characters in this this week's round of Convergence titles come from is "Pre-Zero Hour," which means 1994, as we measure time outside of DC Comics. In the case of this particular book, it is right before Zero Hour that that the title character was plucked, as he lost his hand in Aquaman #2, got his harpoon in #0 (published in conjunction with Zero Hour), and lost his orange shirt in #4, which he's still wearing here. Aquaman had little more than a cameo in Zero Hour; he showed up at the big gathering of heroes, still bleeding from the stump where his arm used to be.

For the purposes of this story, written by Tony Bedard and drawn/sampled by Cliff Richards, Aquaman swam to Metropolis immediately after losing his hand (apparently leaving Dolphin and Aqualad behind somewhere) for some reason, and then immediately got caught up in the dome when Brainiac stole the city.

Bedard does a heck of a lot of telling rather than showing in this, using the old, tired info dump-via-newscaster technique, but it allows him to get through a lot of stuff pretty quickly, while also giving a reader of this book a good idea of some of the other heroes stuck in this Metropolis—Steel, Green Arrow, Green Lantern Kyle Rayner, Superboy, Martian Manhunter, Blue Beetle, Fire, Superboy and an extremely mis-colored Ice. I liked the part of the story where half-crazy, just-lost-his-limb Aquaman, completely cut-off from the ocean, storms into an aquarium and claims it as his own. That might have had the makings of a good story in and of itself, but, as is, it's just a flashback as
Bedard rushes through Aquaman's story to get to the fight against Deathblow, of all people. Here Aquaman is talked out of the aquarium by Dane Dorrance of the Sea Devils, and he follows Dorrance back to STAR Labs, where they hook Aquaman up with the same cybernetic harpoon he got in his own title and salt water showers.

The continuity is a little messed up, as Bedard intimates that Aquaman is pining for Mera, who the dome separated him from—in actuality, they had been apart for a while at the time Aquaman would have gotten domed, and she wouldn't reappear in Aquaman until #12...I don't think they actually got back together until Peter David stopped writing the Aquaman book.

Worse, there was some continuity wonkiness between the various tie-in books published this week. In Man of Steel, John Henry Irons narrates that "any hero or villain with biologically based super-powers lost those abilitis." Here Aquaman keeps his "biologically based" ability to breathe underwater, but loses his telepathy...which was either a genetic mutation (biological t hen, right?) or a magical-based power inherited from his sorcerer father. A lot of Aquaman's powers and origins were in flux at this moment in his history, really; Bedard seems to be working with the retconned version of the character, which de-retconned David's retcons to return him to his Silver Age origins. It's really quite distracting, having to second-guess so much of what you're reading (At least one other tie-in I read this week was worse still, as you'll see below).

An awful lot of time is spent introducing Aquaman's WildStorm universe opponent, although the five pages featuring Deathblow simply show him killing everyone in a Department of Extranormal Operations field office in order to look at their files on Aquaman.

I've really enjoyed artist Richards' work in the past, but this book is really nothing to write home about, as he uses a hyper-realistic approach, one in which almost every background or surface is a photo or photo effect. It's a really sickly, hard-to-look-at book. I kind of love cover artists Becky Cloonan's off-model '90s Aquaman though, and wonder what the book might have looked like had she got to draw all 22 of its interior pages instead of just the cover.


Convergence: Green Arrow #1 (DC) One of the aspects of this crossover that I've found kind of hard to wrap my head around is that fact that Brainiac was apparently capturing "cities" from various doomed timelines—which is all well good, as he's always been into city-napping rather than planet-napping—but Convergence is pulling its cities from four distinct timelines, which has meant that the characters used are, temporally, a very wide pool but, geographically, a very shallow one. You could snag a Metropolis, Gotham or New York from pretty much any of those four time-lines and get a sizable number of heroes, but not without limiting you character pool rather significantly. The solution to this has been rather inelegant, to say the least, as it means a bunch of heroes have to gather in cities they don't really have any reason to gather in, just in order to be domed-up. Last week, some of the books made half-assed explanations for what The Flash, Superman, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and a random assortment of female Justice Leaguers were doing in Gotham City, but there are just so many heroes, it stretches credibility–in a
DC superhero comic book
, where credibility is hardly very often a concern.

In the first issue of the Green Arrow mini-series, both California-based Connor Hawke and Seattle-based Oliver Queen (I think he would still have been in Seatlle pre-Zero Hour) find themselves trapped in Metropolis. Writer Christy Marx—who does a fine job here, even if Chuck Dixon seems a better choice for a '90s-era Green Arrow nostalgia project—at least attempts to explain their presence in Metropolis. Connor was there to check out a huge building someone gifted to his ashram, while Oliver was there "looking for someone."

The majority of the issue is character-focused, showing what the two characters were up to individually over the past year, and then staging a rather intense meeting between the two, as Connor knows Oliver is his father, but Oliver doesn't realize Connor is the son he left behind as an infant.

Thankfully, the Telos speech doesn't start until page 19, and they don't meet their opponents until the very last panel on page 22: Kingdom Come's Dinah Queen and her daughter by Oliver Queen, Olivia Queen, Black Canary II.

Penciled by Rags Morales and inked by Claude St. Aubin, this was by far the best-looking of this week's tie-in minis, and maybe one of the better overall so far. Morales is excellent at drawing people, both their figures and their faces, and thus was pretty perfect for this more dramatic than usual Convergence book, as there was an awful lot of content that had little to do with the goofy premise of the event.

In other words, the emphasis here was definitely more on the Green Arrow than on the Convergence. I wonder how or if Marx can keep that up in the second half of the series. The fact that the opponents are so closely related, and that Olivia stands in sharp contrast to Connor as a child that Oliver Queen—well, a Oliver Queen—stayed with, raised and trained at least shows potential. In far too many of these tie-ins, the opponents seem chosen completely at random.


Convergence Superman: Man of Steel #1 (DC) Writer Louise Simonson returns to her creation Steel, sans co-creator Jon Bogdanove. That seems strange, as Bogdanove and DC are obviously still cool with one another–he's drawing the next issue of Batman '66. But it's not like DC didn't find a good artist for this series. June Brigman, who co-created Marvel's Power Pack with Simonson, handles the pencils. She's inked by Roy Richardson and colored by John Rauch, and the resultant at looks a little rough compared to Brigman's usually quite clean linework; I blame all of the coloring effects, which tend to blur or otherwise muddy the lines.

The cover, by Walter Simonson, is pretty great though, and captures the look and spirit of Bogdanove's art from the era quite well.

Steel was visiting Metropolis with his niece Natasha and nephew Jemahl when the dome went up, and now Steel is filling in for Superman—the fact that his powers come from his suit rather than his body mean he's in the same fighting shape as always, while most of the heroes stuck in Metropolis are de-powered. Meanwhile he an his family work with Professor Hamilton to solve the dome problem.

It becomes a moot point when Telos drops the dome and Gen 13 is teleported in to fight. As with Aquaman and Deathblow, this particular match-up seems to have been chosen completely at random. The Gen 13 kids seem awfully ready to murder Steel instantly, too; it's been weird how ready to fight so many of the "heroes" participating in these fights have been (The most logical match-ups have been the ones that include villains or evil versions of heroes, like those from the Flashpoint timeline or The Extremists, as there's no leap in logic required to imagine them being willing participants in fights to the death).

This particular fight gets more complicated when The Parasite, whose powers got turned on when the dome fell, and Natasha and Jemahl, each wearing their own home-made suits of armor, join the fray, and Steel gets pretty much killed, ending the issue on his deathbed.

Despite the weirdness that's pretty much inherent in the premise of Convergence, this issue actually accomplished at least one major aspect of the event—it adeptly revisited a particular character and setting.


Convergence: Superboy #1 (DC) Wow, this book was just a mess of continuity errors. With Superboy and this version of Metropolis supposedly having been scooped up from some point before Zero Hour (which took place at the time of Superboy #8), there are a lot of things in this book that shouldn't be.

Superboy's powers in this comic include X-Ray vision and arctic breath, two of Superman's powers that Superboy has never had (in fact, in Superboy #0, the first issue of the series after the events of Zero Hour, he got a special pair of glasses that gave him Superman-like vision powers, including X-Ray vision and heat vision). He's referred to as "Kon-El," the Kryptonian name that Superman would eventually give him...but not until about five years (our time) later. And Superman is not even in this domed city, so it's not like he could have given Superboy the name at some earlier point during this differentiated timeline. Also, Dubbilex and Dr. Serling Roquette (the latter of whom Superboy would have yet to have met, although it's possible he met her earlier here) try to fix Superboy's powers by bombarding him by solar energy; that's how Superman's powers work, not Superboy's. It wasn't until a 2003 retcon that Geoff Johns made Superboy an actual genetic clone of Superman; at this point he was an attempt to replicate Superman, and his powers were derived from his tactile telekinesis.

At one point, Superboy falls prey to kryptonite gas; Superboy would have been vulnerable to kryptonite at this point, but he wouldn't have known it. It wasn't until Robin first decked him with Batman's kryptonite ring that Superboy learned he was vulnerable to it.

But other than those five or seven continuity errors in a 22-page comic book specifically designed to fondly recall a particular comic from a particular time period, then, you know, this wasn't that bad. That all might sound like nitpicking to many of you, but I think it well worth pointing out that in the particular case of Convergence, revisiting very particular versions of the characters is th entire premise of the series. Readers can, as always, try to no-prize the comic out of the mistakes its creators may have made, but if there was ever a project where DC shouldn't want their readers to have to do so, this would be it.

Writer Fabian Nicieza seems to be the one to blame, but he can share that blame with his editor and a pair of assistant editors. In the more broadstrokes, Nicieza does okay with the comic. Dubbilex and Serling are trying to restore Superboy's powers to him in a Metropolis lab, as Superboy lost them during the dome-ing. More than ever he feels the pressure to be able to stand in for Superman, who is not in this Metropolis, but he's never been less prepared to do so.

And then Telos drops the dome, restores everyone's powers and gives his speech. Superboy soon finds a trio of opponents. He dispatches the first two ridiculously easily—Red Robin Dick Grayson and The Flash Wally West from Kingdom Come—and then meets the third on the cliff-hanging splash: Kingdom Come's Superman.

Karl Moline provides the pencil art and Jose Marzan Jr. provides the inks. Their art is just fine, but neither seems particularly right for a story starring the early '90s version of Superboy (the artist most associated with the character from that point, Tom Grummett, drew last week's Convergence: Speed Force), nor for a story involving Alex Ross' Kingdom Come characters.

No complaints about Babs Tarr's excellent cover, though, which borrows a pose from Grummett while capturing the spirit of the artist and the subject matter. It would have been great fun to see the woman currently defining the 21st century Batgirl tackle an iconic teenage DC hero from a previous decade.


Lumberjanes #13 (Boom Studios) You know who they are, now find out how they came to be! This is a kinda sorta origin story for Roanoke Cabin, set on first day of camp, as we meet the various 'janes each getting dropped off by their families...and thus we meet their families as well (Well, with the exception of two of them, as one arrives in a cab and the other is already there). Slightly more interesting is the story of how Ripley got her hair 'do, and more interesting than all of that is the story of how molly got her hat. Original Lumberjanes artist Brooke Allen returns after a too-many issue absence to draw this one.


Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman #9 (DC) Two stories this issue, from some very interesting creators, although neither story is all that great (One problem Sensation is going to face going forward, I fear, is that James Tynion and Noelle Stevenson's story from last issue was so good that it's going to end up being the one every Sensation shot gets compared to; there's really only solution: Give Tynion and Stevenson their own Wonder Girl comic, featuring the adventures of Wonder Woman when she was a girl).

The first story is written by Lauren Beukes and features great art by Mike Maihack (whose work I last saw in Scholastic graphic novel Cleopatra In Space). Entitled "The Problem With Cats," it's a little on the trite side. It begins with a cool Wonder Woman adventure, in which she must try to save Batman and Superman from her villains Cheetah, Circe and Medusa, but we soon find out that adventure is taking place in the imagination of a little girl. She has a fight with her sister, imagines another adventure, and they make up and play Wonder Woman together. It's cute, Maihick's designs and art are great (and it's cool how he varies his art when depicting the imaginary scenes versus the "real" scenes in the story) and it's an all-around quite decent all-ages story. It's just that this is one more story about Wonder Woman in the sense of Wonder Woman as a symbol or idea, rather than a story about Wonder Woman in the sense of a fictional character who has adventures.

There are shockingly few really excellent stories of the latter kind, so it can be a frustrating to see such obviously talented folks take the slightly easier tack. At least for me as a fan; as a critic, I can't say there's anything wrong with the story per se, aside from maybe being a little on the over-obvious side.

The second story is by prose writer Cecil Castellucci (probably best known to comics readers for writing The Plain Janes from DC's short-lived Minx imprint for YA OGNs) and artists Chris Sprouse and Karl Story. Entitled "Girls' Day Out," it's a story in which Lois Lane interviews Wonder Woman which...well, it's been done before, at greater length and with more depth, by Phil Jimenez during his too-short run on the Wonder Woman title (the gag with the lasso of truth has been done before as well, maybe two times too often). Which isn't to say it doesn't have its moments—I loved the part where Lois Lane attacked the robot threat, saying she's getting the story which isn't really how journalism works outside of the Silver Age Daily Planet.

So it's not the best issue of the series, but it's far from the worse one either. It's got two good stories, even if it doesn't have any great ones. I'm pretty sure—without double-checking—that it has the best cover so far. It features Wonder Woman capturing her enemies from the first story, and is the work of Ben Caldwell, the cartoonist responsible for the winning Wonder Woman strip in Wednesday Comics.

5 comments:

Evan Dawson-Baglien said...

I think the rationalization they used is that Aquaman's ability to breath underwater isn't a superpower. All Atlanteans have that ability. Calling it a superpower would be like saying that ordinary humans have a "superpower" that lets them breath air.

Of course, by that logic Martian Manhunter should have kept his powers, since all Martians have them, but in the JLI comic he seemed to have lost them. Plus Superman and Supergirl should have been able to recover some of their powers by getting STAR Labs to whip up some high-powered sun-lamps for them, since converting sunlight into powers is something all Kryptonians can do.

Their whole thing with technology still working doesn't quite make sense either. Steel's suit still works, but Green Lantern's ring doesn't, even though they're both technology. In JLI they mention that Red Tornado's powers didn't work when the dome first went up, but Blue Beetle was somehow able to modify them so that they did.

Patrick C said...

The Superboy stuff is driving me nuts. As my favorite comic growing up I was looking forward to revisiting Superboy more than any other part of Convergence, as that character doesn't really exist anymore. If you're not going to actually do the Zero Hour era Superboy, what is the point? Couldn't someone read those 8 issues instead of just going from their faulty memories?

Other than the earring being on the wrong ear, the cover was perfect. Except that it unfortunately raised my expectations for the interior content.

Caleb said...

Evan,

Yes, all the parsing of what counts as a power and what doesn't hasn't been strange, and somewhat arbitrary. It's reminded me of GENESIS, of all things, where the "god wave" affected "powers," which could be anything from skills to superpowers to moods and so on.

I rally don't understand why they're bothering with de-powering the heroes, unless it's meant to explain why more powerful characters like Superman or Parallax or The Flash can't escape. It's such a strange choice though, as when you factor in the fighting aspect, so much of the 44 pages of each story ends up being devoted to how so-and-so got to such-and-such city, how they're dealing with losing their powers and their new status quo, and then setting up and executing fights. Doesn't leave much space for anything, like, fun.

Patrick,

Huh, I didn't even notice the earring! But yeah, that issue was particularly egregious. I started bleeding out of my nostrils and ears trying to make sense of Bruce Wayne and Azrael both being Batman at a specific point in Zero Hour in the Shadow of The Bat book.

The best way to read that Superboy book is probably to think of it as a small $4 poster with an bad comic stapled onto the back of it.

Ryan said...

I'm very fond of that period, so the continuity errors were getting to me as well, for exactly the reason you cite, that the entire purpose of these series is to revisit old continuity.

At the time of Zero Hour, Metropolis had been nearly leveled by Luthor. It wasn't restored until after Zero Hour. Yes, I understand why they wouldn't want to use a destroyed city, but then why not use any city other than Metropolis and have similarly contrived excuses for why heroes are in that city?

Speaking of Luthor, at the time of Zero Hour, his clone body had degenerated and he was fully paralyzed.

Part of the premise doesn't really work for me, either, for a reason I haven't seen anyone else pointing out...part of the supposed selling point of the event was to tell old readers "See? Everything from past continuities is still out there! Everything counts!" Convergence doesn't do that, though. It makes it clear that, of those past realities, only one city remains and any characters who weren't in that city were erased after all. When I read that the Zero Hour-era Superman (my favorite version of the character) wasn't in Metropolis when the dome fell, it read just as if they'd killed the character off.

Douglas A. Waltz said...

I knew when I decided to go with Marvel's big event instead of DC's that I had made a great choice. Your reviews tend to prove that. I do love Sensation Comics because it brings back the whole one and done thing that has been sorely missing from many comic books as of late. Thanks for letting me know that I saved a ton of cash by skipping Convergence.