Thursday, January 14, 2016

Comic Shop Comics: January 13

Batman & Robin Eternal #15 (DC Comics) Poor Guillem March. He's such a great artist, and all DC has for him in terms of work at the moment is drawing a cover of two characters with hideous costumes fighting one another. (The fire on Azrael's flaming sword looks pretty rad though, doesn't it?) With this issue, the present narrative returns its attention to Red Robin Tim Drake and Red Hood Jason Todd, as they infiltrate the Order of St. Dumas' secret high-tech city and have a rematch with Azrael Jean-Paul Valley, who seems set to be joining them shortly. The connection between the Order and Mother is made clear in this issue, but The New 52 Order is so big and weird and wild that it just seems goofy, and out-of-place in the world of Batman.

Christian Duce does a pretty great job on art throughout, and co-scripters Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly handle the techno-religious gobbledygook of the plot about as well as anyone this side of Grant Morrison could, I suppose; they even do a decent job giving Jason quips.

Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #2 (DC) Well, the advantages of having a writer primarily associated with Batman writing a Batman/TMNT crossover, at least from Batman's perspective, become quite clear in this issue. Not only does Batman kick all four of the Turtles' asses in the opening nine-page fight (which only ends when Master Splinter breaks it up and throws a smoke bomb), but no one can shut up about how awesome Batman is. "This guy is fighting on a whole other level," James Tynion IV has Leonardo say; Leo later gushes about how he's never faced an opponent like Batman, with the possible exception of The Shredder, and admires how Batman fights "like a detective."

"I admire your dedication to the martial arts," Splinter tells Batman, "It is rare to see one as well-trained as you."

Michaelangelo (or is it Michelangelo now?) is even less restrained, declaring " That dude was freaking AWESOME!" He then creates a chart to count the ways in which Batman is awesome.

Tynion has Raphael, at least, not that the rest of his brothers are a little too into Batman.

Given that there are only 20 pages in this comic, and the first nine are mostly a fight scene, relatively little happens. The Turtles and Batman fight, and then retreat to their own corners to discuss one another. Bruce Wayne takes one of Raphael's sai, stolen in the fight, to Lucius Fox, who is able to analyze it and theorize how it came from another dimension. Meanwhile, The Shredder and Foot Clan kick The Penguin around and screw him over in a black market deal for some part needed to build their Get Back To IDW machine.

Oh, and Splinter figures out Batman's secret identity and leads the Turtles in a Batcave break-in, which seems remarkably easily accomplished.

Like I've said before, I have way too many feelings about the Turtles and about Batman, let alone the two characters sharing a comic book, to be the most reliable critic of the series.

I'm not a huge fan of the IDW iteration of the Turtles and would have preferred to see either the original/"real" version, or a new, more neutral version specific to this particular story. I'm not a huge fan of the New 52 Batman either, though, and I just can't get used to seeing things like Batman blocking katana and sai with the big, spiky metal gauntlets he wears now. (Although I suppose it makes more sense that this Batman could take out these Turtles so easily, given that they're younger and less experienced, and their skills come mostly via reincarnation).

Freddie Williams' art remains fairly strong, although his action sequences aren't anything special. That may be due as much to the scripting as the way in which it's drawn, but Batman battling four ninjas who are also mutant turtles should be a lot more...exciting to look at and read than the fairly static, unconnected panels depicting their fight.

Also, I hate the way he drew Penguin's collar in the scene in which Shredder is dragging him by it...

Gotham Academy #14 (DC) I'm not entirely sure what to make of Gotham Academy #14, which kicks off a new "Year Book" story arc in which guest creative teams tell short stories involving the cast and setting of the book.

Given Gotham Academy's persistently lower-than-one-might-like sales and how common the feeling that the book isn't quite as good (and/or as popular) as it should be, one possible reading is that this is some sort of last-ditch effort to "save" the book. Or, at the very least, show off to readers just how many fans it has among other creators said readers likely like, with each guest-story doubling as a sort of testimonial.

That possible reading may also be reading too much into the construction of the current story arc though; I suppose it's just as possible that the regular creative team, and/or the book's editors, wanted to invite a bunch of talented creators they like to collaborate with them on a few issues.

Whatever the reasoning, "Year Book" part one features a framing sequence by one of the book's regular writers, Brenden Fletcher. and one of its occasional artists, Adam Archer. The premise is that Maps wasn't allowed to join the school's yearbook club, as she is already a member of too many clubs, so Olive gives her a scrap book and they decide to make their own, special, secret yearbook, full of the sorts of stories that the rest of the school wouldn't be able to hear about, anyway. Those stories are the ones told by the guest teams, and this issue they are 1.) Derek Fridolfs and Dustin Nguyen's story about what happens when students break into Doctor Langstrom's lab, 2.) Katie Cook's story about Maps and Olive's defeat of a sinister plot by the Academy glee club and 3.) Hope Larson and Kris Mukai's story about Professor MacPherson's adventure in a Gotham mall back in 1985, when she was herself a teenager.

It's a great line-up of creators, with a rather incredible variety of art styles for a mainstream DC book like this. If you've never read an issue of Gotham Academy but like any or all of the above names, this is probably a pretty good issue to check out. Which I suppose was the idea behind the formulation of this story arc.

Sure, there's a #14 on the cover, but all you really need to know going in is that Gotham Academy is a private school where lots of weird stuff goes on, and Olive and Maps and their friends have an unofficial "detective club" devoted to investigating all that weird stuff.

The Legend of Wonder Woman #1 (DC) "The adventures of Wonder Woman when she was a girl" is a comic book story that the Internet has been asking DC for since about as long as I've been writing this blog. It also seems like the precise comic that various pop culture trends, particularly in youth literature, have assured the publisher would be a slam-dunk: Wonder Woman is a young woman, either a little girl or a teenage girl, who is both a princess and a superhero–also, magic and mythology. The story of her coming-of-age on Paradise Island/Themyscira seems like a winning card of YA Bingo.

Despite that, DC has seemingly resisted, the closest they've come being a handful of the short stories that have appeared in Sensation Comics (the Noelle Stevenson-drawn one being the best of the lot) and Ben Caldwell's strip in Wednesday Comics, which, like most of the strips in that book, didn't get the individual attention it deserved because it was part of such a dynamite line-up (the quality of the whole tended to obscure the quality of the parts in the case of Wednesday Comics, I fear).

Well, now DC's devoted itself to a nine-issue coming-of-age story of the sort the Internet has been asking for, courtesy of Renae De Liz and Ray Dillon. It's pretty good, and I wrote a formal review of this first issue of the series for GC4K, which you can read by clicking here.

I'm not sure that I have much to add here, so I should probably just shut up. De Liz rewrites elements of Wonder Woman's basic origin rather heavily, but they seem in keeping with her creator's original conception...thematically as well as in terms of events, if not exactly aesthetics (Ever since George Perez's redefining run, the mythological basis of the character has grown stronger and stronger, probably at least in part as a reaction to the aging of the target audience and the accompanying sophistication of their understanding of mythology and ancient Greek culture).

I imagine it will read better in eventual trade than it does in this single issue, particularly the story-within-a-story opening, which takes up a lot of space here percentage-wise, but won't in the final storyline. It reads fine here too, though. I'm really eager to see what happens next, and how De Liz brings her young Princess Diana to her eventual, inevitable fate as Wonder Woman.

And now I'm doubly eager to see what Morrison does with Wonder Woman in his Earth-One original graphic novel, as the ante on quality revised Wonder Woman origins has been rather significantly upped recently, thanks to both this issue and Marguerite Bennett's Wondy portions of Bombshells.

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #0 (Boom Studios) I wasn't planning on buying this $3.99/20-page comic, despite my interest, but a strange thing happened at the shop.

First, I saw the half-dozen or so character-specific variants by Goni Montes all laid out in little stacks next to one another, and thought that, aversion to variants aside, they did look kind of cool. Secondly, a guy ran into the shop, saw them, pumped his fist, talked excitedly about the comic for a while, and purchased a copy of each of the variants he didn't already have (I guess he got the Red Ranger one earlier in the day). His excitement was so infectious that he actually infected me with it.

And so I bought a copy. The Pink Ranger variant cover, of course, because the Pink Ranger is the best. The only better cover would be an Amy Jo Johnson photo variant, really.

It's pretty good, and a much better Power Rangers comic than the last new Power Rangers comic I read. There are three short stories, a 12-page main story Kyle Higgins and Hendry Prasetya focusing on the Green Ranger's integration into the team (set in the present, though; they've got smart phones now!), a two-page Bulk & Skull back up by Steve Orlando and Corin Howell and then a well-made but rather empty six-pager by Mairghread Scott and Daniel Bayliss that is apparently a reprint.

I'll talk more in depth about this comic elsewhere in the near future.


Oh, I also realized that I would be a terrible comic shop employee, as later on in the evening, I felt a weird, random pang of guilt. I wondered if maybe I should have tried to stop that guy who bought all the Power Rangers comics. Did he need, like, an intervention? Or, at the very least, someone to say out loud, "Hey, you do realize you're spending twenty more dollars to buy five more copies of a comic you already bought, right...?" I mean, he was obviously happy with the purchase and all, but man, that's a whole graphic novel's worth of comics money, wasted on variants...

SpongeBob Comics #52 (United Plankton Pictures) The cover story in this issue is a 22-pager by David DeGrand in which SpongeBob and Patrick answer the Bikini Bottom version of Steve Jobs' call for an invention contest. Sandy excuses herself for a three-week vacation, but returns to find the city in ruins, and SpongeBob and Patrick in an alternate dimension where everyone is dumber than them.

I think this may have been the strongest issue, or at least one of the stronger ones, in a while. There's a great one-pager by Mark Martin that tells a simple visual, only-in-comics joke, a two-page Maris Wicks "FLotsam and Jetsam" that may be her best yet and a strangely elegiac Michael Kupperman story about the greatest comic book collection ever, featuring the comics-collecting pirates that usually appear on the credits page. There's also a short Corey Barba story, and your monthly does of James Kochalka.

Star Wars Vol. 2: Showdown on the Smuggler's Moon (Marvel Entertainment) I'm not sure when this actually came out, but I bought it at the shop this week, so in the column it goes. It opens with a one-issue Obi Wan Kenobi story drawn by Simone Bianchi and written by Jason Aaron, which loosely ties into Aaron's overall, ongoing story arc. The rest of the collection features a story arc drawn by Stuart Immonen and inked by his frequent collaborator Wade Von Grawbadger (I thought the art a great improvement over that of John Cassaday, who drew the stories in the first trade collection).

In the story, Luke's journey to find more about Jedi stuff is super-successful, as he finds the Star Wars universe's version of a Star Wars merchandise collector, but he doesn't get to spend much time learning stuff, as said collector wants to toss him into a ring for gladiatorial combat to the death (Rather incongruously, if you ask me; it doesn't seem like what a Jedi enthusiast would do with the last Jedi, but rather what a writer would do to bring his story arc to a quick conclusion at the appointed time). The various other characters all end up on the moon at the same time (I rather enjoyed the Threepio and Chewbacca team-up) for a rather satisfying climactic battle.

Aaron and Immonen introduce a few new characters, including Han's "wife" Sana Solo, who got all the attention when this was being published serially. I was much more charmed by Grakkus The Hutt, a much more fit and physically active Hutt, who gets around on robot spider leg implants and is built, having big, cut arms. I'm not sure how a Hutt gets arms; I imagine there's a lot of dumbbells involved, though.

The best scene is probably when R2-D2 steals a bunch of light sabers and shoots them out of his head for a cool Oprah moment, in which everyone gets a light saber. Hell, Chewbacca gets two!

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