Sunday, August 09, 2015

Comic Shop Comics: August 5

Age of Reptiles: Ancient Egyptians #3 (Dark Horse) Twenty-four more pages of gorgeously drawn dinosaur-on-dinosaur violence, courtesy of Ricardo Delgado. There are at least two "action" scenes in this issue, among several stand-offs; the first of which is one of the most brutal scenes I can remember reading in a comic book (one that made me think if I had my choice of dinosaurs to be chased by, maybe I'd prefer a large carnivore over a sauropod after all), and the other a surprisingly suspenseful battle between the book's Spinosaurus and a bunch of smaller dinosaurs that manage to make a real fight out of it based on their numbers alone.

Airboy #3 (Image Comics) One of the strangest comics of the year continues, as comic book writer James Robinson and comic book artist Greg Hinkle find themselves transported from the "real" world of Airboy #1-#2 to Airboy's world, where they see Nazi "steam-punk battlesuits"..."Like Mignola would draw!" They are lead to the secret headquarters of Airboy and his allies, where they meet the other strange super-aviator heroes of a comics age past, all of whom you see arranged on the cover.

It's really an unusual book, and not simply because of how Robinson is using the public domain characters to tell a meta-textual story, but in just how confessional and cathartic it seems for the writer himself. In earlier issues, he discussed at some length his problems writing at DC Comics lately and his worries over his career and marriage. Here he cries about his failed/failing marriage and, conflating the two during an emotional scene with the title character, answering the question of whether or not he's any good at writing with a tearful, "I used to be. I think, once upon a time. Nowadays, I don't know."

That scene is followed by one in which we seek much more of Valkyrie than anyone ever dared imagine they'd seen in a comic book, I imagine, despite how suggestively costumed she's always been.

Robinson (the real Robinson) took some heat last issue for his treatment of transsexual background characters in one scene, particularly Robinson (the comics avatar) using offensive slang to refer to them a few times, and a trans-panic scene that made sense to me as a reader in context (Airboy has the mind and cultural sensitivities of a 90-year-old man, after all), but I could see how it wouldn't sit well with others. I think it will be unfortunate if that scene keeps readers from the series as a whole, however. It's like nothing else on the stands right now, for good or ill I suppose, and it's a rare thing to find a Big Five comic that is as consistently surprising as this one.

Bat-Mite #3 (DC Comics) There have been four-to-five Robins since Bat-Mite debuted in 1959, but as far as I know, before this week, original Dick Grayson was the only Robin to have ever actually met Bat-Mite. If that is indeed the case, then Robin VI (or V) Damian Wayne became the second RObin to do so in this third issue of the Dan Jurgens-written, Corin Howell-drawn series about the magical, mischievous imp exiled into the modern DC Universe.

Jurgens seems to spend so much time on set-up in this issue that it really feels like this is the third issue of an ongoing series, rather than the half-way point of a miniseries. Bat-Mite gets a new home and new supporting cast, as well as a rationale for sticking with them, giving the book a bit more of a foundation than the premise introduced in the first issue, that Bat-Mite was going to "fix" DC superheroes until they are all as popular as Batman, who he claims responsibility for.

Perhaps the sales on that first issue were so good that DC is considering making this monthly, or maybe Jurgens is just laying the ground work for future Bat-Mite miniseries or appearances by the character.

The guest-star this issue is, of course, Robin. This Robin has even less time for Bat-Mite than Batman does, and the pair immediately come to blows, despite Bat-Mite rescuing Damian from a goofy death trap constructed by Gridlock, the mysterious, fairly lame villain introduced last issue. Next issue's guest-star appears on the last page of this issue: Jurgens creation Booster Gold.

I continue to enjoy the plotting more than the scripting with this series, as Jurgens isn't terribly funny, and the joke that finally makes the grim Damian bust out laughing at the end is the least funny of the many un-funny jokes. The scene's construction makes sense, of course, but its execution seemed incredibly forced, and rang false.

I've no complaints about the artwork, however, and perhaps the most exciting element of the book's guest star-per-issue format is it gives us the opportunity to see Howell draw so many different characters.

On the subject of light-hearted comedy comics tied to DC's major franchises, I should note with some small degree of alarm that Bizarro #3 was also originally scheduled to show up this week, and didn't.

We Stand On Guard #2 (Image) Ohhhhh, now it's starting to make sense! A critique of the current state of the American political-military-industrial complex and our wars in the Middle East, re-contextualized so that the people America is making war on are of the same race, same basic religious make-up and same basic cultural history, thus highlighting particular actions and behaviors free of the particulars of current, real-world conflicts. That's actually kind of brilliant. And there's also an invented racist term with which to slur Canadians! (I think it's invented; I've never heard anyone use it before, anyway).

That Brian K. Vaughan is one smart dude. The book also features fantastic detailed artwork by Steve Skroce, and a full-realized, lived-in near-future world that's a fairly amazing place just to hang out in and look around at.

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