Thursday, December 10, 2015

Comic Shop Comics: December 9

Batman & Robin Eternal #10 (DC Comics) I didn't like last week's issue, which focused almost entirely on Red Hood and Red Robin teaming up with Bane to storm the crystal space castle that the Order of St. Dumas built on top of the Santa Priscan prison that Bane was raised in for some reason and came face to face with Azrael.

This issue is much more of that, with three pages spent in the "several years" ago timeline and a rather confused two pages spent following Grayson and Bluebird.

The plotting is pretty confused. This Azrael knocks everyone around with his flaming sword...which I guess isn't really a flaming sword, as it doesn't cut anyone or set them on fire?...and does something weird to Bane's brain. Team Red goes to a secret room to do technology stuff, both of them spouting off about the readings they're picking up like they're wearing Iron Man armor (I've gotten used to Red Robin doing that, but Hood?). Then a bunch of monks come in, and Red Robin, the computer expert, fights them off, while instructing Red Hood, the guy who fights people, on  to hack into the computer and download stuff. Then Azrael does something weird to Red Robin's brain. Along the way, they discover that this Azrael is none other than Jean-Paul Valley.

Meanwhile, in the past, Batman and Robin Dick Graysoa argue, and Batman goes to Mother, seemingly seeking the creation of a new and more perfect Robin.

And, finally, Grayson and Bluebird decide to abandon the AWOL Cassandra Cain in Prague and pursue a David Cain!

Narratively, I think the issue, plotted by James Tynion IV and Scott Snyder while scripted by Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly, is a bit of a mess, as they use a shortcut to overlay dialogue over action, although in some cases the speaker isn't participating in the action, but it's in anticipation of the next scene, and so you have what looks like Bruce Wayne narrating an action scene featuring Batman in the past, but he is really beginning a conversation in narration boxes that is actually being spoken to another character. Similarly, Grayson narrates a downright impenetrable montage of events (Page 18, panel 3?), but he's really talking to Bluebird, who talks back, also in narration boxes. I guess the quote-marks are the clues that they're using the device differently.

The art from Roge Antonio and Geraldo Borges doesn't do much to add clarity to the confused storytelling. 

But the worst part is a problem endemic to the new, New 52 continuity: The whole cake-and-eat-it-too thing where the official line is that continuity is being rebooted to make it new and fresh for readers and writers alike, and yet creators keep falling back on old minor characters to fill their narratives. Yes, Harper Row/Bluebird is a new and original character, as is The Orphan and Mother, but now we're involving Azrael, and Jean-Paul Valley specifically and even David Cain, and so, if you're familiar with this stuff, you–or at least I–find yourself (myself) constantly having to parse and organize this stuff.

Jean-Paul Valley? Has he appeared in The New 52 yet? Wait, wasn't his successor Azrael already in a New 52 book (Yes). So this is a new version of the character I knew before, right? This isn't DCU Jean-Paul Valley, but New 52 Jean-Paul Valley. Same with David Cain.

It's fine to reboot DC's major heroes and villains if the intention is to do brand new stuff with them, clearing away all the clutter of their crowded pasts and moving forward with new stories, but man, if they're really going to move forward, shouldn't they be moving forward, and not just remixing and retreading old storylines and characters? I mean, if that's your goal, you don't really need a reboot at all...

Ah well. At the very least, they managed to work shark repellent into the issue...

Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 (DC) Okay, all my cards on the table here, I really like Eastman and Laird's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The first, Mirage-published volume was one of my gateway comics (as were Batman comics, actually), and so this historical-ish meeting of the two franchises is a really big deal to me. I don't want to say my expectations are sky high, because I actually have some pretty low expectations, but I really want this series to be good, I think it should be good, it's worthy of being really good.

That said, I remember Keith Giffen responding to a question about how critics, fans and readers seemed to universally despise a project he was working on at the time–I'm 99% sure it was Countdown, as I don't think there's ever been a comic that everyone who read it hated like Countdown, certainly not one that Giffen was involved in, and he said that when he hears criticism, he tends to translate it as someone saying that, and I paraphrase, "I would have done that differently." That seems like a valid way for a creator to evaluate another creator's work on a franchise character, although I don't think it extends too far beyond that. But I was thinking about it because, at the very outset with Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I had a lot of reservations, certainly at the outset.

My main concerns were in the creative team of James Tynion IV, a Batman writer whose work I've generally liked, and artist Freddie Williams II, a DC artist whose work I've also generally liked. Neither have experience with both, though, and while I guess finding an artist who does would mean recruiting Michael Zulli or Simon Bisley, neither of whom have the most marketable style for a book like this, it would have been nice to have a creative team reflecting a blend of the characters. Maybe a story by Tynion and Kevin Eastman, with breakdowns by Eastman and finishes by Williams. (Eastman does provide the variant cover, which is exciting, although I'd like a better look at his Batman; I really want to see Eastman draw every inch of the Batman landscape and character catalog as they can pack into this thing, I guess).

My other concern was that this is a very specific iteration of the Turtles, the IDW one. I've been a bit underwhelmed, and increasingly so. They seem to be going for a remix style incorporating elements from various comics iterations and various cartoons, but it feels too stiff and manufactured to me, and, visually, has been unable to keep a tone for long (The current Nickelodeon cartoon series, by contrast, does what the IDW TMNT comic attempts infinitely better, acting as a sort of All-Star Superman version of TMNT history, pulling the best of everything from everywhere and remixing it into something knew...although I'm sure they're eventually going to hit a wall where they cross into absolute silliness. I'm currently watching the latest DVD collection, and Mondo Gecko gets introduced in next episode, for example).

So far, it hasn't been too terribly clear that these are that specific iteration of the comic book Turtles (the third "official" iteration, following the Mirage TMNT of volumes one, two and four, and the the Image TMNT of volumes three, and not counting the iterations based on the cartoons, of which the Archie Turtles are the only ones to have a very long life span). It's mostly just clues, and familiarity with the publishing strategy IDW has employed with the Turtles; they and The Shredder and Foot are designed to resemble the IDW versions, they all seem to be stuck in another world, which is how IDW has dealt with their previous TMNT crossover, with the Ghostbusters, etc.

As for Batman, presumably this will be a canonical story for him too, although Tynion plays it a little loose in terms of nailing down when this is going on. Clearly at some point before Batman Eternal, as Batman still has his Batcave and is in control of his company. And obviously before "Endgame," since he's, you know, Batman.

Okay, so much for the preface. How is the actual comic?

The $3.99/20-page comic (IDW pricing, then) finds Batman investigating a series of thefts by mysterious ninja on various high-tech firms in Gotham City, which apparently has no shortage of high-tech firms. One survivor describes such an attack, noting that the ninja were seemingly accompanied by inhuman creatures that Williams's art makes clear are the Turtles.

Batman, by the way, looks really fucking goofy to me in this:
Williams is clearly going for an amped-up, New 52 version, looking like something closer to the last cycle of movies, and the Arkham and Injustice videogames. DUde's wearing more armor than The Shrerdder, and colorist Jeremy Colwell makes all shiny like metal. He looks about as dark and stealthy as Iron Man.

As should become rather immediately clear, somehow The Turtles, The Foot, Shredder and Splinter have all been marooned on Earth-0 of the DC Multiverse, and the bad ninjas seem to be stealing materials to create a means to get home...while the good ninjas are either after the same components, or are just trying to stop them. Batman sets a trap for the Foot, wipes them out, and shares a few words with The Shredder, who disappears in a cloud of smoke.

The Turtles are delayed from that fight when Killer Croc and his gang stumble upon their layer in the sewers.

The fighting is, disappointingly but not surprisingly, extremely lame. After a few panels of taking out Croc's gang, the Turtles leap at him in a splash page. The scene cuts away, and Croc is unconscious. That entire fight took place off-panel.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles vs. Killer Croc:

Similarly, when Batman springs his trap on the Foot, he says he wants answers, and then the scene cuts away. When we return to Batman, the Foot are all unconscious on the ground, save one, that Batman is interrogating. Batman vs. The Foot Clan? Also off-panel.

Batman vs. The Foot Clan:

American superhero comics tend to be extremely poor when it comes to depicting actual fighting, ironically, since so much of the genre revolves around fighting. It's particularly disappointing in stories like this though, where not only is there this "once in a lifetime" aura about the story (although I guess we shouldn't worry overmuch; Batman fought Judge Dredd in at least three crossovers, and Predator in at least five different crossovers), but also the fact that this involve a bunch of ninjas (Personally, I was pretty disappointed with how easily Batman dispatched the Foot. Ninja should be a little higher-class opponent for The Dark Knight, right? Especially for this relatively inexperienced one, who has only been in the business for about six years now?)

Hopefully when Batman and the Turtles have their big, practically mandator fight scene (prior to teaming-up, of course), it will be an actual fight scene. Maybe we won't get things like blows being thrown and dodged, blocked and countered–I mean, I know this isn't manga–but maybe it will at least occur on panel.

For what it's worth, the issue ends with Donatello admiring the Batmobile, and Michaelangelo Michelangelo says, "I think she's taken," as they all see Batman striking a Jim Lee pose above them, and saying "Turtles..."

Bat-Mite #6 (DC) I missed this the first time around, so my shop had to reorder it for me, and that reorder just came in this week. That's why I'm discussing it here, even though it came out, what, last month...?

It comes wrapped in a horrifying cover by Lesly-Ann Green, depicting a frightening clay (?) Bat-Mite grinning like an evil goblin at the reader. Writer Dan Jurgens and the art team of Corin Howell and Andres Ponce leave the world of superheroes behind to have Bat-Mite focus on–groan–American politics and the results are depressingly un-funny. And, um, wrong (Bernie Sanders already has the youth vote, guys).

After a half-dozen or so pages of Bat-Mite messing with the presidential primaries and national monuments, he discovers the true identity of Gridlock (also a political joke, although not directed at any particular politician or party, just gridlock in congress in general) and they have their climactic battle, with ends with Bat-Mite triumphing in an unusual manner.

He then goes home and we discover the identities of the three hooded, imp-sized figures who banished him to Earth in the first place. It's probably the worst issue of the series, which makes it a bad one to go out on, obviously, but it ends with everything short of a promise to return in some form soon.

Personally, I wouldn't mind more Bat-Mite comics, nor would I mind more Bat-Mite comics drawn by Howell, but I wouldn't mind seeing what a writer other than Jurgens could do with the character.

DC Comics Bombshells #6 (DC) It's the end of the second, three-issue story arc. Mera, officially given the name "Aquawoman" (which she doesn't care for), fights the Soviet Stargirl and Supergirl, in a scene that made me realize I have no idea how exactly her powers work (or how the cosmic rod works either, apparently, as it can re-color costumes...?), Batwoman destroys Nazi tanks with exploding baseballs and meets Bombshell Huntress, Wonder Woman, Catwoman, The Joker's Daughter, and Harley and Ivy all make brief appearances, and Zatanna spends some time with John Constantine, who she turned into a rabbit earlier, but he seems to still be able to do a lot of human-like stuff.

Each scene featuring a "Bombshell" (be they an official Bombshell or not) ends with their names appearing at the bottom of the panel, suggesting this is the end of a first act of sorts, reminding us of all the players, who they are and what they're up to. Marguerite Bennett's story, which is shaping up to be something of an Elseworld's All-Star Squadron story, works with Sandy Jarrell, Ming DOyle, Maria-Laura Sanapo and Marc Deering, none of whom are Marguerite Sauvage, which makes me sad, as good as most of the art is.

Gotham Academy (DC) This issue is labeled as a "Robin War" tie-in versus an actual chapter of the over-arching crossover story (the second and third of which ship this week, in Grayson and Detective Comics). It's a relatively strong issue in terms of quality, if not so much in terms of relevance to the multi-book crossover storyline. Gotham City has enacted tough, anti-Robin laws meant to curb the vigilante gang/movement, and this issue opens with a Gotham Academy-based Robin (not one of the regular cast) busting a Gotham Academy criminal, and then he himself getting busted for illegal Robin-ing.

Riko Sheridan from the pages of We Are Robin is visiting the school, as was briefly detailed in a panel or two of Robin War #1, thus adding another Robin to the mix. She joins forces with Olive and Maps' Detective Club to investigate a zombie that crawled out of the school greenhouse. It's a very specific, Gotham-based form of undead, however: One of The Court of Owls' Talons (guest pencil artist Adam Archer offers a bit of a clue in the design, which includes a very beak-like nose).

At this point in the storyline, it's hard to tell if this is all the characters of Gotham Academy will have to do with the Robin/Owl war or not. In the last pages, Damian visits the school to talk Maps out of attempting to rescue Riko from the cops and tell her he has plans for her and her friends that will come to fruition later. In "Robin War," or later...? I don't know.

The book is true to the spirit of Gotham Academy, however, and is one of the stronger stories in that regard, as writer Brenden Fletcher (writing alone this issues) fusses less with Olive's mysterious lineage (although is a clue in terms of how far it must go back, if the 200-year-old undead Talon recognizes her) and her Calamity powers. Rather, it features our cast investigating the latest weird, possibly supernatural happening at their weirdness-magnet of a school.

The artwork doesn't quite glow like it usually does when Karl Kerschl is drawing it, but it's still a very good-looking comic. I'm afraid that James Harvey's guest art on We Are Robin #4 really spoiled Riko for me, however, as the costume she sports here isn't anywhere near as cool as the one he dressed her in there.

So a good issue of Gotham Academy, but maybe not of "Robin War," as it has just enough in common to make for a solid tie-in, but only very broadly so. Of course, if at least part of the impetus of crossovers like this are to get the readers of one book to try out other books they might not already be reading, then this does it's job very well, as it is a pretty great done-in-one showcase of what Gotham Academy is like month in and month out (even if usually has a different artist; Archer, working with inker Sandra Hope and colorist Serge Lapointe, achieves a style that's close enough to what Kerschl and company usually come up with).

Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman #17 (DC) Here's another comic that's arrived in my hands late, albeit only about a week or two late. This issue features a full 30-page story by the single creative team of Trina Robbins (Hey, that's a good person to have write Wonder Woman comics!) and artist/colorist Chris Gugliotti.

Robbins' story is an extended Island of Doctor Moreau riff, folding in The Cheetah (Barbara Minerva version), so that the power that turns her into a naked were-cheetah is being harnessed by a mad scientist type on an island to try and turn animals into people. The title of Robbins' story? "Island of Lost Souls."

It's a decent enough story, one in which Wonder Woman aids her archenemy (and her archenemy seeks her aid), because Wonder Woman is a compassionate, caring good guy who always does the right thing: Not really a portrayal of the character we see often in other DC comics.

I really like Gugliotti's art, which has something of a story book look to it, something of street art, and something of self-published mini-comics. There's a self-taught, almost amateur quality to the work, which tends to look very flattened out, to play loose with angles and anatomy (more for the sake of expression than anything else) and to skimp on settings and backgrounds.

The invisible jet looks awesome.

It's the sort of art that I could definitely see not being everyone's cup o tea, but then, that's one of the great virtues of this title, that it allows for such widely variant interpretations of Wonder Woman and such a wide variety of art styles to be applied to the comics icon.

SponbgeBob Comics #51 (United Plankton Pictures) The theme this month is games, as you can see by the cover, which is actually a play-able one (you'll need dice and some game pieces of your choice, though). Joey Weiser, Vince DePorter, Nate Neal, Charles Bruebaker, Maris Wicks, John Chad, Zac Gorman, James Kochalka, Corey Barba and Corey Henderson all tell tales of SpongeBob and friends (and, in Wicks' case, dolphins) playing games of various kinds. I found the most unique and impressive one this month to be Chad's two-pager, the entire second page of which is a lovingly detailed and designed SpongeBob pinball machine.

We Stand On Guard #6 (Image Comics) Canada wins! Sorta! By destroying the valuable resource the war was over, so maybe everybody really loses...? I guess that's what happens when countries go to war though, right?

I think this is the last issue, but there's no indication that it is, just as there's no indication that it isn't. With most of the cast dead, though, I think it's probably safe to assume this is the end. I guess that's another thing that happens when countries go to war, too–many of their soldiers end up dying.

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