Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Comic Shop Comics: July 29

Batgirl #42 (DC Comics) The credits of Batgirl continue to evolve. In this issue, which is apparently the second half of the title character's team-up with the new Batman, co-writer Cameron Stewart does not get credited with breakdowns (last issue was the first he wasn't), but a Jake Wyatt and Michel Lacombe get breakdown credits instead. Babs Tarr's excellent art, colored by Serge Laponte, doesn't seem affected one way or another. In the previous issue, which she apparently drew without anyone else handling breakdowns, the artwork showed slightly more expressiveness in the characters, but that was the only real noticeable change. The same goes here. Aside from some of the faces looking a lot more like Babs Tarr faces, there's nothing going on behind the scenes that is affecting the artwork drastically, or diminishing its many charms in any way.

And as with the rest of the Brenden Fletcher, Stewart and Tarr team's run on the book, this issue is a pretty excellent one; extremely full, with panel-packed pages that belie its actual, relatively short 20-page page count.

Batgirl and Batman both pursue Livewire, their pursuit temporarily complicated by the fact that the new Batman is supposed to apprehend any and all vigilantes (like Batgirl), even if Gordon himself doesn't really want to. There are some really fun, funny moments between the two here, and it was nice to get this little reminder that Batgirl does take place in Gotham City still, as different as the book may be from the rest of the Bat-books.

Stewart and Fletcher offer some business with a handful of the supporting characters, including a very big moment for one of them on the last page, and Tarr continues to make every single character look hot, cool and sexy at the same time. A friend pointed out an issue of the old, pre-New 52 Batgirl series where that Batgirl (Stephanie Brown) also fought Livewire, and I was struck by the fact that aside from the many similarities, Tarr's Livewire looks so different. And so much better. I mean, check out her heels:
I can't wait for next month, so I can get another issue of Batgirl...

Batgirl Annual #3 (DC) Oh hey, I don't have too! There's a $5, 36-page annual out this week too! (Wait, maybe DC should have scheduled that better, so Batgirl readers would have to make more than one trip to the comic shop this month...?)

So the cover blurb promises "A Deadly Rendezvous with Grayson...And Much More!" and they were not kidding about the "Much More!" Based on the cover and what I had read of the book, I was expecting a kinda sorta almost reunion with Grayson (who, for reasons that don't really make any sense if you think about them long, Batgirl and everyone other than Bruce Wayne believes to be dead). And that is what we get for the first 18 pages. Artist Bengal, who drew the silent Batgirl: Endgame one-shot, draws that portion of regular writers Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher's story.

What I didn't expect is the three team-ups that followed, all of which are fairly surprising, even if they do involve crime-fighting ladies in Gotham City. And I will proceed to spoil them, so if you'd like to be delightfully surprised about what the "And Much More!" refers to, maybe don't read this post any further...?

Batgirl first meets and teams up with Spyral's Helena Bertinelli in a scene that makes both the masked vigilante and the super-spy seem rather unconvincingly naive and trusting:
They are attempting to clear a building that's been taken over by a generic terrorist organization (the kind with uniforms) and capture its leader. Complicating matters is that Bertinelli's actually there with Grayson, who is a few steps ahead of them, and is adamant that Batgirl not lay eyes on him, as even with a high-tech disguise, she'll likely be able to recognize him from the way he moves or acts.

After pages of intense fighting and near-misses, they eventually do come face-to-face, and Grayson's forced to put on a false face...
...but there's one thing he can't disguise:
From there, they go their separate ways, as Batgirl continues to investigate the terrorist organization in Gotham. She next teams up with Spoiler in a five-page sequence drawn by David LaFuente (my choice for the artist of a Gotham teen title starring Spoiler, Harper, Tim Drake and the soon-to-be-introduced Cassandra Cain), Batwoman in a six-page sequence by Ming Doyle (Doyle's a great fit for Batwoman, and while her Batgirl looks good too, Doyle's style is probably the furthest removed from anyone who's drawn the new-look Batgirl in a Batgirl book since the new look was introduced) and, finally, Olive and Maps from Gotham Academy in a seven-page sequence by Mingjue Helen Chen (who works in a style suggestive of storybooks that doesn't quite look like that of the Gotham Academy ongoing, but is in the same ballpark, to the extent that the sequence looks like a Gotham Academy sequence more than the other sequences).

A few questionable moments aside–like, for example, why the villain was trying to kill a victim via a Wicker Man, aside from the fact that Wicker Mans are cool, or how the Bat-ladies essentially just let a villain go at one point, or how Batgirl and Helena team-up ASAP–this issue was a ton of fun, and did exactly what an annual should do: Give you an extra, extra-big helping of what you like about the regular monthly.

I just wish it were a bigger helping for $5...

Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe #8 (IDW Publishing) I got the "subscription cover" by Andy Suriano, showing Shipwreck and Seaspray on it. Neither of them appear inside the book (and surely Cutter, who piloted the Killer W.H.A.L.E. hovercraft, would be a better Joe bro for hovercraft Seaspray than Shipwreck, really), but that's fine: I like Suriano's art, and Shipwreck is the very best G.I. Joe. The best, I say! (The other two covers don't have anything to do with the interiors either).

This issue is...weird. So there are a lot of splash pages in it. There are six single-page splashes, and two two-page splashes, but artist Tom Scioli's art is so detailed, so full and so peculiar that a single image of his can "read" as long as a few pages worth of panels from other writers and artists. The first splash page, for example, is a single image with two characters speaking about a half-dozen lines between them, but it features a Lovecraftian space horror god holding Billy aloft in its snake tail tentacles, several of which are wrapped around pillars in an elaborate cathedral full of cobra men (or statues of cobra men?), while a Snake Eyes covered in blood spray sits on a platter at what looks like a recreation of The Last Supper with Cobra Commander and his agents–including redesigned members of Cobra-La–while Benjamin Franklin's famous "Join or Die" snake political cartoon is in a frame behind him.

A later splash includes a frame of tiny panels arranged like a film strips bordering the large image, so it could be read as a single-panel splash, but, if you look closely, it has 32 tiny, silent panels embedded within the image.

This book never ceases to amaze with its creative presentation and its ever-deepening mythology intertwining elements of the two title franchises with whatever seems to strike the fancy of Scioli and co-writer John Barber.

The big moments are probably Snake Eyes' escape from the Cobra temple just as Cybertron finally connects to Earth, a battle to the death between Optimus Prime and Megatron and a fight between Omega Supreme and Astrotrain that doubles as a symbolic conflict between the U.S. highway system and rail in the wild, warped vision of Scioli and Barber.

Omega Supreme, like Astrotrain, gets a pretty radical re-design, with Scioli focusing on the weirdest aspect of the original toy/cartoon character (the stretches of road that formed his wings in robot mode–he was a giant robot that's alternate form was an Autobot base, you may recall), and accentuating that over everything else.

There are lots of small moments, too, though, that are often as much fun as the big ones...or at least the more rewarding for the sort of fan whose heart skips a beat when he hears the name "Scoop" spoken aloud: New characters Army, Limbot and Viper (I think), The Pretenders and the introductions of three of the lame characters from Transformers: The Movie*, one of them who Scioli draws like the motorcycle equivalent of a centaur in one panel, and another of which I kind of hope got killed off-panel, as seeing him here reminded me of my loathing for him.

On a strictly formal level, this is probably the best serial comic being published at the moment. On a fan-level, this is definitely the best serial comic book being published at the moment.

*Although to be fair, with the exception of Unicron, all of the characters introduced in Transformers: The Movie were lame.

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