Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Comic Shop Comics: October 7

Batman & Robin Eternal #1 (DC Comics) I rather sorely missed the weekly Batman Eternal when it finally wrapped up, so used to getting a new, usually pretty good issue of a Batman comic every single Wednesday for so long. This is the sequel series, and it's just different enough in cast, premise and creative team that how well it will live up to its predecessor is still an open question.

The story still comes courtesy of Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV, although they've swapped the order in which they're credited here, and Tynion handles the script as he often did in Batman Eternal. There will be a new writing staff taking turns scripting, however, although none are credited with this issue.

Additionally, in the current status quo, Batman is no longer Bruce Wayne, who lost his memory at the end of Snyder's "Endgame" story arc, but former police commissioner James Gordon, wearing a mechanical battle-suit. Robin is...well, the current Robin isn't in this issue at all; technically, the official Robin of the moment is the recently resurrected Damian Wayne, but he's out of the country for at least a year, as chronicled in his own book, Robin: Son of Batman. It seems as if the focus will be on former Robin (and former Batman) Dick Grayson, and his fellow former Robins Jason "Red Hood" Todd and Tim "Red Robin" Drake. Some other Batman lieutenants will also apparently play a role, as well: Harper "Bluebird" Row appears extensively in this issue, Stephanie "Spoiler" Brown is mentioned, and Cassandra Cain makes her very, very stupid New 52 debut.

So, here's what happens in this comic book.

"Several years ago" in Cairo, Batman's origin is visited upon a young Egyptian boy: His parents are gunned down as they leave a movie theater with him.

We then flash to "Then," where Batman is swinging through Gotham with a heavily armored Robin who looks like he's wearing a combination of Tim Drake, Damian Wayne and NFL SuperPro's costumes (this being the darker, grittier, more serious, more "realistic" New 52-iverse, the original Robin costume never existed). Then we flash to "Now," where artist Tony Daniel draws a completely inept, unintelligible, five-page action scene in which the former Robins are all introduced.

Dick Grayson, now just going by "Grayson," is chasing a bad guy up the side of a building on some kind of super-motorcycles. Red Hood, waring his newer, dumber costume, appears to be rappelling from...somewhere...shooting up, while his bullets rain down. Then the bad guy crashes his motorcycle, but there's no such thing as gravity...? So he sticks to the side of the building. And then Red Robin swoops in, and he sticks to the side of the building like Spider-Man, too (Having read, re-read and re-re-read this scene, I think I've figured out what Daniel was trying to draw, but there's no establishing shot to communicate what the building looks like, and the lay-outs are sub-amateur; just pin-ups shrunk down to a size that a comic book page can accomodate three-to-five of them. It's really poor storytelling; this was the book I was most looking forward to this week, and it was by far the worst-drawn).

That's followed by a scene in which the current Batman tries in vain to bust Bluebird, but is soundly defeated by her. Then Dick puts on a Clark Kent disguise and attends an event at a school where he and Batman once fought the Scarecrow many years ago, when he was still Robin (and by "many" I mean, like, maybe five), but something goes weird...there are a bunch of creepy kids with guns, and one of Dick's Spyral allies betrays him.

And then this happens:

It took me a really long time to figure out what the fuck Cassandra Cain (that's Cassandra Cain, by the way) is supposed to be posing on in that last panel. My best guess is that she's standing in an open dumpster, that is under a bridge for some reason. Why she's standing in a dumpster, I can't imagine.

She knocks Dick around for nine panels that make little sense (at one point she punches him down into the dumpster she was just posing in), while Daniel's art tries to suggest some kind of Cass vision by highlighting random parts of Dick's body with little red circles (I think these are meant to be his tells, but, again, there's no real logic to which ones are chose; sometimes they seem to be where she's striking, while at other times they seem to be what she's focusing on to predict his moves).

When Dick talks to her, she says "Mother" a few times and then hands him a flash-drive that Batman apparently gave her specifically to give to Dick. Why did she kick him off a motorcycle and beat him up first? I don't know...?

Then new villain The Orphan, who looks a little too much like The Scarecrow from the Arkham games, shows up in Harper's apartment to kill her.

Then Dick arrives in the Batcave, and opens the flash drive that Cassandra gave him, and there's a list of names, including Richard Grayson, Jason Todd, Timothy Drake, Harper Row, Cassandra Cain and six half-names (one of which is "Jean-P," with the rest cut off; Jean-Paul? As in Valley?).

Then Batman appears via hologram to tell Dick some rambling, vague clues. And then we flash back to Egypt, where we see the shooter of the boy's parents...Oh my God it's Batman himself and he has a smoking gun what is even going on?

So, Tynion and Snyder have given us a bit of a mystery to puzzle over, here: Who's this "Mother" everyone keeps referring to, who's The Orphan, what was up with those mind-controlled kids, what might this have to do with The Scarecrow, what's the deal with Batman's apparent child-stalking of potential sidekicks, what's going on in Cairo, etc.

It's kind of too bad Daniel got to draw the first issue. Presumably, the artists will change with some frequency, as they did in Batman Eternal, but Daniel just doesn't have the drawing chops to handle much more than covers or splashes, so much of the art is just visual gibberish. That said, the first issue of Batman Eternal was pretty poorly drawn to, with a key moment drawn in such a way that it was completely ruined, and it got better as time went on.

One of the virtues of the previous weekly was that it allowed for so much focus on all of the many interesting Batman characters that didn't get much spotlight in the Batman-starring books, and Tynion and Snyder seem poised to run with that idea here, as Batman himself is unavailable to appear in this title at the moment. By necessity, then, this has to focus on all his sidekicks, partners and allies.

I'm not so sure that's going to work out that great, however, as focusing on Batman and Robin history is only going to keep calling attention to the fact that it doesn't really make sense. Bruce Wayne only became Batman somewhere around six or seven years ago (five years between Justice League #1 and Batman #1, plus one year between Detective Comics #1 and "Death of the Family") and, in that time, we've now had three Batmen and four Robins.

I'm intrigued enough by the questions to want to keep reading, and confident enough that the art will change for the better that it will likely be worth slogging through the rough stuff like this. But man, this was a very rough start...

Jughead #1 (Archie Comics) Well, the first three issues of the new, rebooted Archie were not a fluke, nor was the fact that they were so good due entirely to the efforts of writer Mark Waid and artist Fiona Staples. Or, at least, Waid and Staples aren't the only creative team capable of telling a fun, funny, all-ages story in the new, more modern, more representationally-drawn milieu of post-reboot Riverdale. Because writer Chip Zdarsky and artist Erica Henderson (whose work I last saw on the excellent Squirrel Girl, maybe Marvel's best ongoing that isn't Ms. Marvel) knocked the first issue of Jughead right out of the park.

While Henderson's style is pretty far removed from Staples', she manages to keep the designs all consistent, even if her Juggy is a little less jagged and pointed. This Jughead is also a little sharp than the one in Archie, but then, his role is different; there, he's Archie's best friend, conscience and ally, while here, he's the star of his own comedic comic, in which Archie is merely a relatively minor supporting character.

The 20-page story re-reintroduces Jughead, as a slothful, gluttonous, blase teen with a great deal of imagination and smarts that he never really employs...unless a dire situation calls for it. Zdarsky gives him one such situation.

He ignores Betty's attempts to gather signatures to stop Hiram Lodge from developing a local forest, and he could care less about Mr. Weatherbee being replaced by a new least until that principal makes some changes in the cafeteria.

After a first-third introducing the players and the conflict, Zdarksy and Henderson detour into an extended fantasy/dream sequence (a Game of Thrones parody entitled "Game of Jones"...which must work if you're wholly ignorant of the source material, as I am and most of the kids reading this will presumably be), and then return to reality where Jughead learns an incredibly important life lesson–It turns out, you can make food.

Jughead seems to be set a little further in the future than Archie is, as the Veronica, her dad and Reggie are all firmly established here, while they're still being introduced and integrated in the book's sister title, but it's very much of the same style and tone of Archie. And, more importantly, of the same level of quality.

Paying $3.99 for a 20-page Archie comic seems a little wrong to me, but thankfully Archie softens the blow by including a reprint of an eight-page classic Jughead story introduced by Zdarsky, and keeping the handful of ads at the back of the book. If we must have $4 comics, this is the way to do them, I guess.

Paper Girls #1 (Image Comics) I've heard creators enthuse about the Image model, and I've heard creators unhappy with how it works out for them financially. As a reader though, I certainly appreciated getting a 40-page, ad-free comic, followed by a two-page letter col and a four-page character pin-up section, for just $2.99. Particularly on a Wednesday in which Marvel was selling first issues of new series featuring Dr. Strange, Iron Man and Spider-Man for $4 a pop.

This is the latest by writer Brian K. Vaughan, working with artist Cliff Chiang, for a sort of dream team team-up of an EDILW-favorite writer with an EDILW-favorite artist. Set in (fictional) Stony Stream, Ohio, an apparent suburb of (real) Cleveland, it stars 12-year-old Erin, who gets up before 5 a.m. to deliver the (fictional) Cleveland Preserver.

She's rescued from some bully boy teenagers by a trio of fellow paper girls, and they decide to do their route together that night/morning. Things go awry in a very weird way though, and gets weirder and weirder until a sci-fi twist ending that seems to allude to time travel of some sort.

The year is 1988, and the trappings are all pretty 1988–from Erin's Far Side desk calendar to bad girl Mac's causal use of "faggot" as a slur. Erin has a Monster Squad poster in her room, and that's a pretty good signifier for what Vaughan and Chiang seem to be going for here, in terms of tone and content: Normal, suburban kids dealing with the fantastic.

Chiang's art is, as always, unfuckwithable, and while Vaughan's story is clearly still unfolding in a way that makes the premise difficult to assess (as a first, draw-you-in issue though? Strong stuff), I liked it well enough to want to read the next issue. That said, as an Ohioan who was a pre-teen in the 1980s and read the Cleveland Plain Dealer, there's a pretty good chance I'm biased in favor of this book's surface trappings.

Scooby-Doo Team-Up #12 (DC) This actually came out last week, but I missed it. As you can see from the cover, Harley Quinn is now so goddam popular that she gets to have her own crossover with Scooby-Doo, putting her in rather rarefied company (Previous DC super-people team-ups have included only the A-List of the DC Universe: Batman and Robin, Superman, Wonder Woman and the Superfriends version of the Justice League).

Actually, while I've no doubt it's Harley's newly found market muscle that lead to this particular team-up–I look forward to seeing the sales data from this month, to see if Scooby-Doo Team-Up received any noticeable Harley bump–the cover actually reads, "Featuring: The Gotham Girls!"

And, in fact, Harley's roommate and partner in crime Poison Ivy isn't the only other Gotham gal to show up in this issue. Regular writer Sholly Fisch has Scooby and Mystery, Inc standing atop a building in Gotham City near a gargoyle, expecting to meet Batman. Instead they meet Harley and Ivy, who want to have the teen sleuths help them deal with a haunting: Ever since they stole a particular opal, they've been haunted by bad luck, to the extent that Harley believes they're being cursed by a ghost.

Spoiler alert: They're not.

Artist Dario Brizuela uses the character designs from the first season of Batman: The Animated Series for the Gothamites who appear...or, at least, their costumes. The guest-stars are all drawn in a more Scooby-Doo-lie, more straight, unfiltered Brizuela design, then Bruce Timm-derived designs.

Not the best issue of the series so far, but interesting in both its choice of guest-stars and in how Brizuela chooses to render them.

Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman #15 (DC) This 30-page issue bears a generic but not-terrible cover by Jenny Frison (what's up with that eagle though? It seems to be in the background, but it's flying in front of the lasso in the foreground...?), which, given Sensation's history of covers, counts as a good one.

Speaking of generic, the lead story is written by Adam Beechen and drawn by Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, whose typically stunning pencil work is inked by first Kevin Nowlan and then Scott Hanna. Beechen's story opens in court, as a crusading attorney questions Wonder Woman about her latest battle with The Cheetah (Debbi Domaine version), as he wants to see the super-villain put away in a maximum security super-prison, rather than transfered to some easier-to-escape-from place where she can get psychiatric help.

It's an interesting enough story about supervillan recidivism, and the way that the cyclical, serial nature of superhero narratives inevitably means no villain ever really gets better or goes straight or even just stays locked up, but escapes to commit more crimes in the future.

The thing is, it's not really a Wonder Woman story, despite the fact that Wonder Woman and The Cheetah are in it–Beechen could have plugged any superhero and supervillain into the story, and nothing of note would have changed, only which characters Garcia Lopez drew. In fact, this seems more like a Batman story than one for any other hero, as he's the superhero whose villains are almost uniformly assigned to a place meant to cure them of their criminal insanity only to escape a few months later...or, given the sheer number of Batman comics published these days, a few weeks later. Notably, Beechen uses The Scarecrow in a flashback explaining why the attorney is so strident in making sure supervillains get locked up as tightly as possible.

Actually, using Wonder Woman–a hero with relatively few well-known repeat-business supervillains who are of the sort that could be jailed–probably works against the drama of Beechen's story. Particularly since he's using the Domaine version of The Cheetah, who has only appeared in a handful of stories and no stories that I can think of post-Crisis, rather than the more well-known Priscilla Rich or Barbara Minerva versions.

The artwork on this opening story is predictably solid, but suffers a bit from the weird spacing that some of DC's digital-first books do, with a distractingly wide gutter that splits each page lay-out in half.

The back-up is a 10-pager written and drawn by Carla Speed McNeil. The set-up's a little on the unusual side. There's a guy who had a pet lion, but the lion got hard to take care of, and he became a shitty lion-owner, and so after mistreating the lion for a long time, he's going to unload it...until Wonder Woman stages an intervention...?

Points for originality, anyway.

Speed McNeil does showcase one of Wonder Woman's least-used powers–her ability to talk to animals–in an amusing way, and there's a neat four-and-a-half-page sequence set during Diana's girlhood on Themyscira, which is so often a great source for good Wonder Woman comics (as Sensation has ably proven; I guess it's nice that Wondy appears in Superman/Wonder Woman as well as Wonder Woman these days, but the second Wonder Woman book that DC really needs to do is a Wonder Girl in Wonder Woman's adventures as a girl).

Her art is just as good as Garcia Lopez's, although her style is vastly different.

Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe #9 (IDW Publishing) This issue is a departure from the eight previous ones in several respects, one of which that writer/artist/colorist/letterer Tom Scioli handles the entire 20 pages solo, with his regular co-writer John Barber MIA until the two-page story commentary at the end of the issue. It's also a departure in terms of content, as we leave the present for a "spotlight" issue focusing on the history of Destro and his clan, dating back to ancient times. Actually, the book begins with a two-page splash in which the Autobots' ark spacecraft lands on Earth in pre-human history, and then we jump ahead to ancient times, where Destro's ancestor Laird Mac Cullen seeks the counsel of the mysterious serpent priests who guard a "cave of the gods," the ruins of that ship from the first spread.

As with so much of the book to date, this issue finds Scioli drawing unusual, unexpected connections between the two franchises (and, here, history) that, once laid out, actually kind of make a sort of perfect the origins of Destro's mask, for example. While the bulk of the issue is set in ancient times, it jumps ahead through the history of the Destro clan, coming to its conclusion in "the last fading moments of the 20th century," where Cobra Commander strikes a deal with Destro, and we get a bonkers final page that looks like something out of a Ben Marra comic.

And speaking of Ben Marra, guess who drew one of this issue's three covers!
Benjamin Marra, of course. Coincidence?
The other dramatic departure in this particular issue is just how straightforward Scioli's storytelling is. In fact, it's downright traditional (there are even pages with nine-panel grids!), with little of the volcanic experimentation that's characterized the rest of the series so far. But then, this is a break from the story thus far, a kinda sorta origin of elements of Destro's origin and place in the world, but also hints of various aspects of the ever-widening mythology of Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe. It's the kind of issue that probably never would have been made were this a limited series, rather than an ongoing.

We Stand On Guard #4 (Image) Do you like those robot dogs that artist Steve Skroce has designed for this near-future U.S. vs. Canada war? Me too. Well, in this issue, he draws about a million of 'em.


oneofthejonesboys said...

What does John Barber actually do on TvGIJ? I read the first trade and, from the commentary at the back, it sounds like Scioli does most of the plotting and dialogue anyway. I'm not being snarky -- I honestly don't know what he does. Is it just touch-ups at the end?

Tony Daniel makes me regret ever saying mean things about David Finch or Michael Turner

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

So who is the hideous looking character on the cover with half pink hair?

Caleb said...

Mr. One Of The Jones Boys,

I...have no idea what Barber does on TRANSFORMERS VS. G.I. JOE, specifically, which is actually kind of weird in that every single issue has the two creators talking about the creation of each issue, huh? I've had the impression that they did it sorta like original "Marvel style" (does Marvel still do that? I can't imagine they do), in which Barber and Scioli talk for a while about the issue, Scioli draws it up, and Barber writes dialogue...or some of it...or just polishes it? Or works as an editor/sounding board? One of the neat things about their commentaries is it sounds like a pretty common occurrence is for Barber to write an outline or a script, and Scioli to send back something completely different. I'd love to see the two of them at a panel some time, explaining their process...


That's Harper "Bluebird" Row. Like everyone else on that cover, she has a terrible costume and is in need of a redesign (I just realized that the Red Hood is now wearing a brown hoodie, so that DC has a character called "Red Hood" with a brown hood). I like the character, and the codename works, but, her costume is a pretty godawful WildStorm fact, her first "draft" costume had a blue, Grifter face rag.

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

Christ. A Grifter rag.I bought the issue yesterday and I absolutely agree on those scenes with the motorcycles on the buildings. I looked at Harper Row inside the comic and the costume isn't as intense. The hair isn't extreme, and those straps from the eyes to...wherever...the chin, the collar is only on strap instead of that Y strap.

Then again, DC could just have artists drawing the characters wrong. I don't know why this WildStorm-inspired stuff keeps popping up. Pandora made a mistake, we never needed them at all.