Sunday, November 08, 2015

Comic Shop Comics: November 4

Batman & Robin Eternal #5 (DC Comics) The credits on the above page of this issue of DC's weekly series should give you a pretty good indication of how bad the artwork is in this particular issue. That is a lot of cooks in one particular 20-page kitchen. I've been reading Steve Pugh-drawn comics since at least the late 1990s, and I didn't recognize a single panel of this book as his work. In fact, even going by the page numbers in the credits and checking the pages against the artist's credits, I question if they're accurate; the most Pugh-like lines I see, a nose here or there, occur on pages credited to someone else. The pages that are credited to him are good ones–Tim Drake looks like an actual teenager instead of a 45-year-old man, for example–but still don't look particularly Pugh-like.

Does it matter?

I think so, yes. I always say, here and when talking to people in person, that I'm a lot more forgiving of poor art when it's produced on a punishing, weekly schedule (although, given the fact that this is like, DC's tenth weekly comic this decade, you would think they would have gotten to the point where they work far enough ahead that they can use fewer artists, maybe even–gasp!–a single one). But as this particular storyline is occurring at two different points in time, and a significant portion of their cast are nearly identical characters, yeah, art is important. Especially when it comes to the more mysterious aspects that writers James Tynion, Scott Snyder, Steve Orlando and others are teasing out.

Here's a good example. This issue opens during the "Several Years Ago" timeline, when twentysomething Dick Grayson was still Robin (despite wearing a costume that looks to be part Robin III and part Robin IV...what's up with the weird treading around his armpits?). He and Batmnan encounter a girl that is dressed exactly like Cassandra Cain is during the "present" setting of the book. Given that she's always drawn by different artists, it's impossible to say if she looks exactly like her or not, but she has the same short black haircut, at least.

Is that the same Cassandra? If so, why hasn't she aged, like Dick has? Is it because she doesn't age–a character tells her that she's not even a real person at one point in the conversation, for example–because of some element of her mysterious origins and/or the mystery of the "designer people" the series' plot is concerned with? Is that not Cassandra, but someone who dresses and looks a lot like her?

The fact that the art is so wildly inconsistent from page to page and panel to panel makes it impossible to sift out what is a visual storytelling cue (which is kind of integral in the medium of comics) from poor art.

So yeah, it's a problem. If DC and these writers want to tell a more sophisticated story, they might want to make sure the artwork is of at least base level sophistication, or stick to more straightforward "Character A Punches Character B" plotting.

In this issue, we get another scene from Batman and Robin's investigation of a "Several Years Ago" Scarecrow, a case growing to include The Orphan, "Mother" and Cassandra-or-whoever-is-dressed-like-Cassandra. In the present, Dick Grayson goes to visit Tim's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Drake, who in the New 52 are both apparently still alive. And pretending that Tim is dead...? And living in a super-house, all high-tech booby traps, that Tim apparently built for them, because he's a millionaire super-engineer...?

I have no idea if this is all new information thrown at readers in this issue, or if this is all part of Tim's heavily re-written origin that accompanied the 2011 New 52 reboot. If it is information that readers have had access to before, I guess it would have occurred in the unreadable* Teen Titans, as that has been where Tim has most often appeared since the reboot (I've only read a few pages worth of his origin story in...dammit, I don't even remember where, now. One of the #0 issues of one of the Batman comics, I think).

Meanwhile, Cassandra Cain walks around, with Bluebird following her. They find a secret passage, and fight The Orphan again.

Batman & Robin Eternal #5: A bunch or poorly-drawn plot that is either nonsensical revisions of stuff you thought you knew, or nonsense from other, worse comics you may or may not have read.

Neon Joe: Werewolf Hunter #1 (DC) "What's this?" I asked, flipping through the top copy of a little stack of comics set aside in a special place right next to the cash register. The art looked familiar. "Is this by Ostrander–Wait, not Ostrander, what's-his-name..."

"Too late! It's in your hand! You have to take it now!" he said, in a We've-got-a-bunch-of-these-things-to-get-rid-of tone of voice (The same one he used when forcing a copy of DC's special Batman Day giveaway comic upon me a few weeks ago, even though I already had one (Their shop's shipment apparently unfortunate arrived after Batman Day).

As the comic, which is apparently a tie-in to a Cartoon Network shoe, is drawn by Ohio-born, husband-and-wife team of Tom Mandrake (who has often worked with John Ostrander, which is why I thought "Ostrander" upon seeing his art) and Jan Duursema, I decided to take it home with me, rather than throwing it down and running out of the shop.

I like Mandrake and Duursema's work a lot, the latter's more than the former's, although the former has drawn a few of my favorite DC Comics over the years, like The Spectre and Martian Manhunter (the good volume of that series). Additionally, I have a lot of affection for the pair, as they drew Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (Mandrake drew a pair of fill-in issues for Duursema, the title's regular artist), one of my first comics.

This...isn't really the best use of either artist's time or talents. Page one of the Jon Glaser-written issue has a character at a police station taking a hair from a plastic bag marked "Werewolf Pubes" and putting it under a microscope, where we see the hair itself has a heavily-fanged mouth.

I actually can't tell who did what in the 16-page comic. If you told me it was all Mandrake, I'd believe you, probably because he finished all of the art, which has his much more distinctive, blacks and cross-hatching. A lot of the characters look a lot like Duursema's though, too, particularly in their eyes and their posing. I don't know. Maybe Duursema did the pencils, or rough pencils, and Mandrake the inks or finishes and inks. Maybe they sat around the drawing board together, each simultaneously working on different parts of the same page. Whatever; it still came out better than the first five issues of Batman & Robin Eternal.

This is the story of who Neon Joe: Werewolf Hunter is, and how he came to be. I read it very, very late Wednesday night, and forgot everything I had read. I just now re-read it, between paragraphs (it's a short read). Neon Joe is apparently a white trash steroetype (I'm a caucasian who makes less than $30,000 a year; can I use that term "white trash," or is still offensive...?). He had a number of ridiculously dumb tattoos, talks in a dumb voice, which Glaser writes phonetically/Claremont-ically ("Oh, I'm gonna git dat wolf") and says "He-Yump" a lot. I think that's supposed to be his catchprahse. He says it in a dialogue balloon with a neon green circle around it during the book's one splash page, in which he poses with his bayonet-bearing handguns.

Neon Joe was raised by werewolves, but his father ran off with the nanny, and his mother killed herself. So then he was raised by actual wolves, "although, truth be told, they was a little it was more like me taking care of them."

And when he grew up, he wore neon–the opposite of camouflage, so they could see him coming–and dedicated his life to werewolf hunting, "in the hopes that one of these times, it would be my daddy, so I could avenge my momma."

And that's that. It's well worth what I paid for, I guess, although, truth be told, I had more fun studying the line-work and trying to figure out which line was drawn by which artist than I did in reading the book.

The show will apparently look more like this than what's on the cover:

That doesn't look much like a cartoon to me, but I don't know, I stopped watching Cartoon Network some time ago. Maybe they've moved pretty far away from t heir name, like The Learning Channel, American Movie Classics and Animal Planet have...

Paper Girls #2 (Image Comics) With it's second issue, Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang's Paper Girls has added a few new elements to get to the point of "Actually, I have no idea what's really going on just yet." While the first issue ended with a climactic reveal of an artifact from the future (well, the protagonists' future, as the book is set in a fictional Cleveland suburb circa 1988), plenty of weird stuff happens in this issue, as well, including weird atmospheric phenomenon, the disappearance of many people and the appearance of a flock of some of my favorite prehistoric creatures in a fantastic two-page splash that reveals the time anomalies go both ways (as well as revealing how splash images are supposed to work, rather than just filling-space the way they usually do.

One of the girls also uses the word "Shillelagh," so this would have been my favorite comic book of the week. Had Sholly Fisch and Dario Brizuela not killed it on Scooby-Doo Team-Up.

Scooby-Doo Team-Up #13 (DC) So if you're doing a comic book called Scooby-Doo Team-Up for DC Comics, the entire premise of which is to team Scooby-Doo and the gang up with various characters, than teaming the ghost-breaking heroes with a trio of DC's greatest ghost heroes–The Spectre, Deadman and The Phantom Stranger, all pictured on the cover–sounds like a pretty great idea.

The Stranger and Deadman come to visit Scooby and the gang at their (?) house on Halloween night (Yeah, this shipped a week late, I guess), asking for their help in rescuing The Spectre and several other good ghosts from a mysterious perpetrator who has captured and imprisoned them.

At this point, you may be thinking, what could be better than that team-up? Having Scooby become the new host of The Spectre Force...?
Yeah, that would be pretty cool.

But even better? How about involving, oh, I don't know, every single DC ghost hero and villain that Sholly Fisch and Dario Brizuela could think of and/or get away with?

Because they did that too.
"What about the Haunted Tank?" you ask? Don't worry. While I would prefer an entire issue devoted to a Haunted Tank/Scooby-Doo team-up, reast assured that the ghost of General J.E.B. Stuart is indeed in here.

So yeah, this is pretty much the best comic ever, complete with the villain muttering "And I would've gotten away with it, if not for that meddling Kid Eternity!"

Of note is the fact that Gardner Fox and Howard Purcell's 1942 creation The Gay Ghost appears, although bearing the new name "The Grim Ghost," which appropriates the name of another comic book ghost-themed hero, this one from the short-lived Atlas/Seaboard line. As far as I can tell through entire minutes of exhaustive online research, the name change did not occur here, but in 1985's Who's Who #9, which changed The Gay Ghost's name to The Grim Ghost. This issue is, as far as I can tell, the first instance of The Gay Ghost being referred to as The Grim Ghost in a comics story.
I pondered the name change for a while. The connotation, and more popular definition of the word "Gay" has certainly changed quite a deal since 1942, to the extent that when people first hear it now, they think "homosexual" rather than "happy." Is that a reason to change the character's name, though? Maybe. I kind of like the idea of a straight ghost–as much as I like typing that phrase–who is constantly being thought of as being sexually attracted to other male ghosts and, being a product of his own, long ago time, constantly being afraid of the label and arguing against it. (Grant Morrison alluded to that during his Animal Man run, when The Gay Ghost elected to stay in Limbo, due in part to the changing meaning of his name).

I was kind of uncomfortable for it being changed specifically for a kids comic, as whether a character is gay or straight, or whether the word "gay" gets used or not shouldn't be a more sensitive topic for readers of Scooby-Doo comics than of other comics, so I was kind of relieved to learn that it wasn't a creative choice made specifically for this comic (The fact that the ghost-formerly-known-as-The-Gay-Ghost happily declares "They brought ladies" upon seeing Daphne and Velma seems a bit like over correction, though).
I don't know; gay-ness and Scooby-Doo are a weird topic to get too deep into though, I imagine. Certainly Velma was one of the first characters I encountered in my own consumption of pop culture that was defied pop-culture definitions of what it meant to be a boy and what it meant to be a girl, and, when I eventually learned what a lesbian was in grade-school, she was among my first suspects of a cartoon character who might be one (followed closely by Peppermint Patty and Marcie, although the former is really more of a tomboy). In recent years, Warner Brothers has apparently quite consciously made Velma a more traditionally "sexy" character, her figure and mode of dress gravitating closer to that of Daphne, as well as making her a character with a more noticeable sexual attraction to boys. Whether that came about because of the decision to cast Linda Cardellini as Velma in the first two live-action iterations of Scooby-Doo**, or because of some agenda, conscious or unconscious, to make her more of a sex object akin to Daphne and more of a definitely-not-gay character, I couldn't imagine. The evolution of Velma over the past decade or so has been interesting to watch, though.

Speaking of the cartoons, this if the final ad in this issue:
There's a new Scooby-Doo series?! I guess that means the excellent Mystery Inc series has ended, huh? I was trying to watch it on DVD for a while, but got a little lost (they released it weirdly), but really enjoyed what I had seen of it. That was probably the all-around best Scooby-Doo series ever, so hopefully the new one will at least be in the same ballpark.

The style certainly looks...different.

Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman #16 (DC) This issue's cover by Doug Mahnke and Christian Alamy seems to come from the very same battle that the heavily-criticized one that Ivan Reis drew for issue #3 came from, huh? There's Wonder Woman, splattered with the black blood of her foes, holding her bloody sword and shield (no sign of that magic lasso of hers, one of the most famous–but apparently not deadly or cool enough to use–weapons in comics) while she poses among a bunch of random orc characters in a generic Ancient Greek ruin backdrop.

It, naturally, has nothing to do with either story inside, both of which are, in costume and back-story, definitely pre-New 52 stories.

The first and longer, 20-page story is written by Caitlin Kittredge and drawn by Scogtt Hampton, whose style is a little...weird. Most recently seen drawing the canceled-upon-conception G.I. Zombie series, Hampton's artwork is an uncomfortable mash-up of appropriated photo-reference (i.e. all of the backgrounds and props) with traditional drawing...or not so traditional, as it looks more air-brushed or painted than drawn with pen-and-ink.

It's okay artwork, sure, and it tells the story just fine, but it's not, stylistically, my own personal cup of tea.

Entitled "Echidna" and set in Gotham City, the guest-star filled story finds Princess Diana helping the mythological title character trying to track down a trio of her children, who are here just strange-looking but otherwise innocent, non-monstrous kids. She puts on one of her post-Crisis, pre-New 52 costumes (John Byrne design, I think) and starts kicking down doors to find the missing kids.

Along the way, she encounters a Batgirl–
–who dresses more-or-less like the original, although her hair is hidden. Actually, the costume most resembles one very breifly worn by Batgirl III Stephanie Brown, before she adopted her final, purple-themed one. Maybe it is Stephanie? There are no dialogue clues that I can find to say who it is (although she bears the air of authority that Barbara, rather than Stephanie, might adopt when talking to Wonder Woman), but the presence of the other characters makes a stronger argument for Stephanie than Barbara (the blue eyes rule out Cassandra). Of course, these stories tend to be continuity-lite, rather than tied to a particular era, so it ultimatley doesn't matter).

Also appearing are Professor Pyg, Harley Quinn and, briefly, Batman, who shows up on the last page to ask Diana if she wants to have an off-panel team-up taking down The Scarecrow with him.

The second story is a ten-pager by Jason Badower, and features Wonder Woman teaming up with the other half of the World's Finest, this time on-panel. A great, evergreen, day-in-the-life type story, it features Wonder Woman and Superman wrapping up a Justice League adventure–Batman and Aquaman get name-dropped, while the latter appears in the foreground of one panel–and then hanging out together, as Superman follows her around on various adventures, from being a particularly hands-on United Nations Executive Ambassador–in this case, she stops and army by pretty much just standing there and soaking up all their ammunition–to officiating a gay wedding.

This bit is pretty awesome.
Also, there's a nice bit where she defines her relationship with Superman (This being a non-New 52 story, it's their traditional relationship, as best friends)...
...and a nice bit where she tells him how Clark Kent can always help her.

Badower has a really great handle on the character, and what makes her so well as what simply differentiates her from other characters, like the one she spends the whole story with. His art style isn't one I particularly love, but he's really good at it, and this story is better-illustrated than many I read this week, including the one that fills the first two-thirds of this issue.

We Stand On Guard #5 (Image Comics) The second Brian K. Vaughan-written Image Comics title I bought this week! I could have sworn this was a five-issue limited series, for reasons that I now can't remember, but the letters page seems to indicate this is not, in fact, the last issue. That's good. The ending of this particular issue would still have worked, in a shockingly unexpected way, as an ending for the whole series, but at least one more issue would allow BKV to stick the landing better. However many issues are left, be it one more or 10 more, I'll be sorry when it's over. This has been a pretty great series. As much as I love BKV and Fiona Staples' Saga, it's been a blast these past few months seeing what they can do with other partners in other places.

*Seriously. I've tried reading various issues of the book by various creative teams, and I simply cannot get through a whole issue of it. The only one I did make it all the way through was the first issue of the title's relaunch. It was terrible, but dammit, I read every single panel of it, which is more than I had managed with any issue before or since.

**According to Scooby-Doo director Raja Gosnell, there was a scene filmed in which Velma was singing a love song, and it was unclear if she was singing it to Fred or Daphne, as the pair were standing next to one an other. That didn't make it into the final print, but the sexually ambiguous nature of Velma was one of the several adult reading s of the original cartoon that the live-action film flirted with riffing on. See also Scooby and Shaggy's perceived rug usage. What a weird film that was.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure the Grim Ghost appeared under that name in an issue of Secret Origins. The one that also featured Phantom Girl, I'm thinking? I'll go look it up.

*looks it up*

Yep, issue #42, cover-dated July 1989. Script by Roy Thomas of course, with art by Mike Bair.