Wednesday, January 20, 2016

DC's April previews reviewed

The theme for DC's variant covers in April is apparently to just "John Romita JR drew these," and I'm totally okay with that. Here are a handful, in no particular order:

DC has previously done artist-specific variant months before, with Mike Allred, Darwyn Cooke and Neal Adams, and while JRJR's aren't necessarily as awesome as, say, Cooke's, they're still pretty awesome, and, despite how long he's been drawing Superman for DC now, he's still so strongly associated with Marvel Comics that seeing him draw, say, Wonder Girl or Robin or Sinestro seems slightly weird/wrong/unusual.

There's not a whole lot of variety to the covers–they all show one or two or five or seven DC heroes engaged in a tight, portrait-like action pose–but Romita's so damn good at boiling a character down to a sense of simple, basic physicality that he invests each of the characters with an icon-like sense of drama and emphasis. And while that may seem easy to do with, say, Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, or even The Flash or Cyborg, you try it with, say Red Hood and Arsenal or The New 52 Teen Titans (For example, these might be the very first cool covers to feature those characters, some 50 months into the New 52-boot).

I would happily purchase a comic book format "gallery" that was nothing but all of JRJR's variant covers for the month, but I doubt DC will publish one; if they didn't collect Cooke's in such a format, I'm sure they won't collect JRJR's.

For DC's complete solicitations for the month of April, you know where to go. And for me babbling on and one about them–Who wants to hear a few thousand words about 1994 annual crossover event Bloodlines? Anyone?–you also know where to go.

Cover by BABS TARR
On sale APRIL 27 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
After the events of issue #50, Barbara Gordon is at a crossroads in her life—will new horizons beckon her away from her home in Burnside?

I don't really care if you leave Burnside or not Barbara, but I sure hope you don't throw that costume away–that's, like, your best costume ever! The only one you've ever had that I liked better was the one from the The Batman cartoon.

Say, what's The Creeper doing in Arkham Asylum...? I didn't even know he had been re-introduced into the New 52-iverse yet, let alone incarcerated in Arkham.

Say, if The Creeper is still Jack Ryder in a transformed state, I wonder how him being in an institution for the criminally insane would work, exactly...? Wouldn't that be like putting The Hulk or Etrigan in jail...?

Inspired by the cover of DETECTIVE COMICS #241, Batman dons the colors of the rainbow in this new action figure 6-pack!
Each figure measures approximately 6.625" tall
$70.00 US • On Sale AUGUST 2016 * Allocations May Occur

I haven't really bought any toys since DC's Pocket Heroes series, but damn, if I had $70 to waste on toys I would never play with, as I'm an adult, this is what I'd waste it on. If only I had won that Powerball last week...

Cover by ANNIE WU
On sale APRIL 20 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
The true scope of what Dinah’s up against stands revealed—and it’s an infernal evil that’s out of this world! What did this sinister presence do to Dinah’s missing mother…and what horrible bargain has the mysterious white ninja made with it?

What are you talking about, Solicitation For Black Canary #11...? That cove is most definitely not by Annie Wu. It is obviously, obviously by Guillem March...which would be clear to anyone who has ever seen the art of either Annie Wu or Guillem March, whether it featured Mach's signature on the image or not.

Written by J.T. KRUL
Art and cover by V. KEN MARION
On sale APRIL 6 • 32 pg, FC, 1 of 6, $2.99 US • RATED T
When a meteor crashes to Earth, bringing with it an unspeakable alien presence that terrorizes a nearby small town, the lucky ones die first. As for the rest, they find themselves locked in a hellish struggle for control of their bodies and their minds. This isn’t just an invasion. It’s an infestation. What would you do if the greatest threat to humanity was hidden away inside you?
Award-winning writer J.T. Krul (Teen Titans, Green Arrow, Jirni) and superstar-in-the-making V. Ken Marion (All New Soulfire, Jirni) bring you their dark and horrifying science-fiction epic about tortured souls who are cursed to a fate worse than death...much worse.


I can honestly say this was the last thing I expected to see DC solicit some form of revival of in this second decade of the 21st century, but as someone who read...let's see...fourteen tie-in books, I have fond(-ish) memories of the original "Bloodlines" event series, I suppose I am the exact target audience for this series, which looks and sounds fairly awful.

So, if you weren't reading DC Comics in the early '90s, "Bloodlines" was the publisher's summer annual event, which was how the Big Two were handling their big intra-company crossover events in those more organized days. Generally they would publish a two-issue miniseries, consisting of the beginning and end of a story, and then all of the various annuals would tie-in to the events of those books, detailing how particular characters and teams reacted to whatever the threat of the event might have been. Basically, one only needed to read the book-ends and the annuals of the comics they were already reading.

This one was structured slightly differently, in that all of the annuals culminated in a two-part climactic miniseries, entitled Bloodbath. It didn't really matter which of the annuals you read–and I read almost all of 'em, picking up many of them in back-issue bins over the years after having only bought the ones I was really interested in the first time around–as their stories were more or less identical.

The plot of the "Bloodlines" event was that our universe was being invaded by a small group of aliens called Parasites that were obviously inspired by H.R. Giger's alien-from-Alien design, although each were distinct. They additionally had the ability to transform into humanoid figures, that looked like weirdly-armored people that fit right in with the DC Universe heroes and villains.

These aliens fed off human spinal fluid, extracted via a scary-looking tongue-tube thing. Most of their victims died, but a very small percentage gained super-powers from the attack, and these new characters were dubbed "New Bloods." The circle of life aspect of Bloodlines was that the Parasites' attempts to kill off a planet also empowered that planet's population enough to give them a fighting chance to stop the world-ending threat that their life-cycle culminated in: Producing a gigantic, kaiju-sized monster spawn capable of taking down all meta-humans who weren't already inoculated against it like the New Bloods.

The annuals were fairly repetitive, as they all involved one of the half-dozen Parasites attacking people in or around the base of operations of whichever superhero or superhero team had their name on the cover, the superhero or superheroes attempting to stop the killings, one of the victims becoming a brand-new DC superhero and helping the established hero chase the Parasite away for the time being. In Bloodbath, the old heroes got taken out in the first half, but were then rescued by the New Bloods.

Creatively, the mandate seemed to be for each creative team to invent a new superhero for DC Comics that summer, and the results obviously varied from creative team to creative team. Some of the characters were pretty great, with the best (and most successful by far) being The Demon creative team of Garth Ennis and John McCrea's Tommy "Hitman" Monaghan (DC just recently released a collection of the first half of their Demon run, including the "Bloodlines" tie-in annual, so I just re-read that earlier this month).

I really liked Chuck Dixon and Tom Lyle's Razorsharp, who had the ability to turn her arms into swords, although the fact that she was also part of a computer hacker gang called The Psyba-Rats didn't age terrible well (Dixon also created a pretty decent Goham superhero with Jim Balent in Geist); Karl Kesel, Tom Grummet and Ed Hannigan's Sparx, an electric-powered teenager who came from a family of superheroes and would alter go on to co-star in Superboy and The Ravers, a short-lived series that is about 1,000 times better than it sounds; and Paul Witcover and Elizabeth Hand's Anima, who would go on to star in a short-lived ongoing series that was a favorite of mine at the time. Oh, I liked the two New Bloods who showed up in the Justice League titles that summer, too. They were named Lionheart and Terrorsmith, the latter of whom had a pretty fantastic super-power (he could create monsters).

There were a lot of bum characters though, but, again, it just depended on the creators. Tasked with coming up with a new superhero, for example, Jeph Loeb just gave DC The Hulk with a different codename and skin color (Loeb's innovation was that, in addition to getting stronger the angrier he got, he and Lee Moder's creator Loose Cannon would also change colors, so he would go from blue to purple to red as he got angrier/stronger).

Actually, the more I think about it, the more I like about Bloodlines. Sure, few of its 26 new characters went on to have much impact in the DC Universe, and none of them became the next Green Lantern or Flash (or even the next Lobo or Blue Beetle), but it was a fun experiment of the sort that probably couldn't even be attempted today, since there's so much money in superhero IP (like, if you had a great idea for a new superhero, why would you just give it to DC for some dumb crossover event, when you could keep it for yourself and that way, if it ever gets made into a movie, you'd make out like a bandit?).

And given the static, change-resistant nature of the Big Two comics universes, where only like 1-in-50 new characters ever catch on and the best chance at achieving anything approaching diversity is to create legacy characters with the names and/or powers of old white male characters, this was a pretty forceful attempt to create new characters, and to do so in the one format that super-comics readers always responded well too: A big crossover event that the publisher told them was important (Oh, and because it was 1993, there were also trading cards).

Reviewing Wikipedia's list of all the New Bloods, I see that at least seven of the 26 were female, and there was a Korean-American character (gun-nut Ballistic), an Indian woman (illusionist Chimera), a half-black, half-Vietnamese character (bad-boy with the worse name Mongrel), a Chinese-American man (regenerating martial artist Nightblade, whose powers made him a potentially pretty funny character) and another black character (Slingshot). Oh, and there was also a Canadian (Sparkx) and a surfer dude (Jamm), if those count.

I don't suppose DC will ever collect all of Bloodlines, as their annual crossover events don't really lend themselves to the collected format, but part of me kind of wishes they would, as each of them provide pretty good snapshots of what the DCU looked like during that particular year (In this case, for example, the Parasites started attacking when Bruce Wayne was still Batman, and their invasion was still going on when Jean-Paul Vallen assumed the mantle of the Bat; likewise, Superman's four replacements all dealt with Parasites and New Bloods that summer) and they all contain plenty of contributions from plenty of top talent.

Anyway, that was "Bloodlines," the 1993 annual crossover event. What's up with Bloodlines, the new DC comic book mini-series...?

Who knows. The creative team doesn't inspire much confidence (Krul wrote all kinds of terrible comics for DC just prior to the New 52-boot), nor does the solicitation's quoting of The Hills Have Eyes remake's tag-line or the promise of a "dark and horrifying science-fiction epic about tortured souls who are cursed to a fate worse than death...much worse." The first go-round was about scary aliens that looked like a cross between the aliens-from-Aliens and dragons with their skin removed sucking the spinal fluid out of victims with some kind of gross throat tentacle, so it's difficult to imagine it being too much darker or more horrifying (I assume by that they mean Jamm will not be included).

I don't know if the cover image is meant to suggest that the Parasites will be more...parasitic than the big, sentient aliens of the original, nor who all of the characters are. Sparx and Loose Cannon are definitely on there. The girl in the barely-there denim shorts could be Razorsharp, as sprouting blades looks to be closer to her power-set than those of any of the other New Bloods, and I'm not sure about the kids in the background, as they don't look like any New Blood I can recall.

My most sincere hope is that Krul and company just steer clear of any introducing a New 52 version of Hitman or Anima. I'm going to go ahead and set my expectations as low as possible for this one, that way if it's better than, say, Ultimates 3 or that Arsenal comic Krul wrote where he's clutching that dead cat, I'll be pleasantly surprised.

While Riley Rossmo's Deadman isn't nearly as cool as Kelley Jones' rotting-corpse version, I really like the effect of the elongated extremeities showing Boston either entering or exiting John Constantine on this cover for th latter's ongoing monthly.

Written by PAUL DINI
Art and cover by EDUARDO RISSO
On sale JUNE 15 • 128 pg, FC, $22.99 US • MATURE READERS
The Caped Crusader has been the all-abiding icon of justice and authority for generations. But in this surprising original graphic novel, we see Batman in a new light—as the savior who helps a discouraged man recover from a brutal attack that left him unable to face the world.
In the 1990s, Eisner Award-winning writer Paul Dini had a flourishing career writing the hugely popular Batman: The Animated Series and Tiny Toon Adventures. Walking home one evening, he was jumped and viciously beaten within an inch of his life. His recovery process was arduous, hampered by the imagined antics of the villains he was writing for television including The Joker, Harley Quinn and the Penguin. But despite how bleak his circumstances were, or perhaps because of it, Dini also always imagined the Batman at his side during his darkest moments.
DARK NIGHT: A TRUE BATMAN STORY is the harrowing and eloquent autobiographical tale of Dini’s courageous struggle to overcome a truly desperate situation. It is a Batman story like none other and one that will truly resonate with fans. Art by the incredibly talented Eduardo Risso (100 BULLETS, DARK KNIGHT III: THE MASTER RACE).

This sounds interesting. I can't wait to read it.

This is Andy Kubert's cover for April's issue of DKIII, which, if it's anything like the previous issues of DKIII, will have somewhere in the neighborhoo of 10,000 or so differnt covers. It's a pretty good Superman vs. Batman image, I think; I like the way he uses the colors of their capes to set them up as opposite forces in conflict.

I note that the artist for the mini comic is credited as "TBA," which isn't a good sign. After reading the first issue, I was really hoping that Miller himself would at least be drawing all the mini-comics, but that hope was, alas, dashed by issue #2.

Written by PAUL LEVITZ
Art and cover by SONNY LIEW
On sale APRIL 20 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
The emperor Julius Caesar has reached out from beyond the grave to resume his campaign against the Egyptian people, and only the young Doctor Fate can protect his ancestral homeland from the ghost of its former conqueror.

I just asked my local comic shop shopkeep to take this off my pull-list last week. Long story short, I loved the art, and while the writing on an issue by issue basis was fine, it was just an incredibly slowly paced, deadly-dull ongoing.

Ironically, this sounds's kinda too bad that it took Levitz something like seven or eight issues to tell the new Doctor Fate's origin story, which can be summed up in just five words: Pre-med student finds magic helmet.

1:25 Variant cover by MAURICET
On sale APRIL 13 • 32 pg, FC, 1 of 6, $3.99 US • RATED T+
Retailers: This issue will ship with two covers. Please see the order form for more information.
Straight from the pages of HARLEY QUINN comes the story of her strange new army of assistants, the Gang of Harleys! In this new miniseries, they’ve been on the job for just a few months, and the Gang is ready to stand up and show what they can do without Harley…and they just might have to, because Harley’s been kidnapped! The Gang’s homes, their loved ones—they’re all in danger from a strange new villain with a very personal grudge against Harley!

One of four Harley Quinn comics available this month, including her regular monthly, her bi-monthly team-up book Harley's Little Black Book and a special Harley Quinn and Suicide Squad's April Fool's Day Special, the last of which is notable for lacking the involvement of the Harley Quinn creative team (i.e. the people who made her comics popular), but featuring art by DC Comics Co-Publisher Jim Lee.

Normally I would say that DC is at Peak Harley, and threatening to burn out any and all fan interest in the character by trying to squeeze too many dollars out of her fans (there are $18 worth of comics with Harley's name in the title this month, but many more dollars worth of Harley comics if you count comics she's appearing in or guest-starring in, like Suicide Squad and Injustice), but that new Suicide Squad trailer did look pretty good, so I suppose there's a good chance the prominently featured Harley Quinn will be as popular as ever, perhaps more popular than ever, this spring.


Say, it looks like she's got a new hairstyle here, which more closely resembles that of her Suicide Squad film counterpart. I'm guessing she dyed it, as in her New 52 origin, Harley's red-and-black hair is as permanent as The Joker's green hair, as they both acquired their distinctive hair colors in the same fashion.

On sale MAY 4 • 360 pg, FC, $24.99 US
In this collection of JLA #94-106 and SECRET FILES 2004 #1, the team is under attack from a coven of vampires known as the Circle—and it’s only a matter of time before one of them will fall! And the JLA is forced to face their own failures—but can they help each other process the pain and go on?

Hey, it's a collection capturing the precise moment in which JLA stopped being DC's best super-team comic, a veritable jewel in the publisher's crown of a DCU line, and turned terrible! The much-hyped John Byrne/Chris Claremont reunion on a JLA arc was not only a terrible story arc in and of itself, but it signaled the beginning of the end of the title, as DC never really attempted to assign a new and permanent creative team to the book after the end of third writer Joe Kelly's run, but rather turned JLA into something of an anthology title telling continuity-lite the same time DC started publishing JLA Classified, which was also an anthology title telling continuity-lite stories by rotating creative teams.

Man, this is bringing back all kinds of bad memories for me now. Like, within these pages, is perhaps the precise moment where Everything Went Wrong (Or was that Identity Crisis #1...?).

Anyway, this collection includes a soft reboot of The Doom Patrol spearheaded by Byrne and then almost immediately forgotten by everyone, and Chuck Austin and Ron Garney's better-than-you-imagine story arc that devotes a single issue to each of the Leaguers facing their greatest fears or whatever.

If you're reading JLA in trade, you can sit this one out, but make sure you pick up the next volume, as that one will contain Kurt Busiek's pretty damn good (Why oh why didn't they just have him take over the book after Kelly's run ended?) story arc.

Nothing says peace, love and compassion like brandishing two big-ass guns.

Not only does Wonder Woman with guns look and feel completely wrong, even antithetical to the character, but the longer I look at this image, which is Bryan Hitch's cover for his April issue of Justice League of America (provided he stays on schedule; if not they might just run a random Martian Manhunter fill-in by whoever), the more confused I get.

Like, I can't imagine the circumstances under which the super-fast, super-strong, invulnerable Wonder Woman would ever even need guns. I think it's kind of dumb when she carries swords and spears and shields and such, since she doesn't need any of that stuff, but hey, maybe it's cultural. But what's she need a fucking gun for? Like Superman or The Flash, she could just pick up bullets or pebbles and throw them really hard, and they would hit with the same impact as a bullet.

Also, how will her teammates feel about her toting around guns? The JLA is pretty anti-gun. Why, Batman has almost a pathological hatred of firearms, what will Batman say when he sees Wonder Woman packing heat...?
Oh. Um...huh.

Never mind, I guess.

Written by RENAE DE LIZ
On sale APRIL 13 • 40 pg, FC, 4 of 9, $3.99 US • RATED T • DIGITAL FIRST
The seas have extracted a harsh price for Diana’s rescue of the outsider, casting her adrift upon the shores of Man’s World! A kind woman introduces her to this strange new home, and a new friend bolsters her confidence, but throughout the early days of her adventure, strange dreams of violence plague her nights.

Holy shit, it's the Holliday Girls! Hooray! I really rather liked the first issue of this, and am therefore looking forward to the rest of it. This cover makes me wonder when the story is set, though, as those look more like Golden Age college girls than modern ones...

Say, the girl in the front, that's not supposed to be Etta, is it...? I imagine it is. Hmm... I don't think I like that particular look for Etta. She, somehow, but she's probably, like, the hardest comic book character in the world to draw, so I suppose I will cut Renae De Liz slack on her Etta design. (You know who would draw a great Etta Candy? Sophie Campbell. In a perfect world, she would be writing and drawing Wonder Woman for DC.)

Gah! New 52 Metamorpho is fucking terrifying.

That, by the way, is Metamorpho, on the cover of DC's new Legends of Tomorrow anthology comic, which doesn't seem to have much of anything to do with the upcoming TV show of the same name, other than the fact that they both feature Firestorm prominently, I guess.

I have no idea what's going on here, other than the fact that this is Neal Adams' cover for Superman: The Coming of The Supermen, and it looks as insane, awesome and horrible as it looks confusing.

You know, in a perfect world, rather than Brian Azzarello and Andy Kubert, DC would have paired Frank Miller with Neal Adams for Dark Knight III. Could you even imagine...?

Here are the two covers for April's issue of Teen Titans. It's a pretty great example of just how good JRJR is. Look at how godawful poor Wonder Girl's costume is. And look at how JRJR draws it. Is it still awful? Yes. But it's a simpler, more stripped-down and simplified kind of awful. It doesn't look good, but it doesn't hurt your eyes to look at it anymore, does it...?

That's how good an artist JRJR is–he can render the New 52 Teen Titans comics in such a manner that one can look directly at them without feeling sick to one's stomach.


Meredith Tomeo said...

Babs better not toss those yellow Dr Martens. I'm pretty sure they're totally out of stock - she'd have a tough time replacing them.

Shriner said...

Doesn't Paul Levitz have something in his contract that says he gets to write a book no matter what? If so, I doubt he cares about the pacing.

But, I, too, am dropping this book. I read the first issue after the interminably-long origin arc and didn't feel it was going to go anywhere.

I wonder if he is just buying time until the waters are ready for another crack at the Legion?

collectededitions said...

On Bloodlines, I recall liking the Blood Pack miniseries, too, which teamed a couple of the New Bloods along with Infinity Inc. (and later Green Lantern)'s Jade, and was "about" reality television back when that meant Real World and not Real Housewives.

Jack Ryder appeared in Dan DiDio/J. M. DeMatteis's Phantom Stranger and then in Ann Nocenti's Katana, to start. I'm glad that knowledge finally came of use.