Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Comic Shop Comics: March 16

Batman & Robin Eternal #24 (DC Comics) I believe this series only has two more issues to go, and things certainly seem climactic in this issue, as Dick Grayson closes in on Mother while the rest of the cast–and plenty of cameo-ing guest-stars*–fight off hordes of brainwashed killer children all over the world.

Azrael's appearance–see him on the cover there?–is weird, as he basically appears to pick a fight with Grayson, and rather than trying to talk Az out of his stated his desire to kill Mother, Grayson just tries to run him over with a snow mobile. I know this is a comic book, but it's not a Marvel comic, and it's not 1967; you guys can team-up to take Mother down and then argue over whether she should be run through with a flaming sword or tied up and turned over to the proper authorities.

Steve Orlando scripts this issue, while Alvaro Martinz pencils it and Raul Fernandez inks it. The action is kind of hard to follow in several passages, and I'm not entirely sure I could make sense of the way Red Robin and Red Hood were using the doors. Also, Midnighter's costume looks pretty weird, although I doubt I would have even noticed had I not just read the Orlando-written Midnighter Vol. 1: Out.

Oh hey, and for what it's worth, I notice that the credits for this issue not only mention that Batman was created by Bob Kane with Bill Finger, but also that Azrael was created by Dennis O'Neil and Joe Quesada. Azrael is the only character other than Batman to get such a credit here.

Black Canary #9 (DC) Wait a minute, >this isn't what DC had scheduled for Black Canary #9, nor is March when they had it scheduled. Weird.

Given that this issue has an entirely different creative team than the regular one and that it's an out-of-sequence, done-in-one story set sometime before Black Canary #1, this seems to be a last-minute substitution, a true fill-in that DC may have already had in a drawer, should the need for it ever arise. That's weird.

To my great surprise, it was also the best issues of the series so far. As I've said before, I've always liked the idea of this book, and the premise of it, a lot more than the actual comic, which has involved a lot of stuff that strikes me as outside of Black Canary's (solo, as opposed to Justice League) milieu, stuff that wasn't really necessary when Black Canary As Lead Singer In A Crime-Fighting Rock Band is such a great premise as is.

I suppose that, and the self-contained nature, are a large part of why I so enjoyed Matthew Rosenberg's story–"Please, Pleas, Please, Let Me Get What I Want"**–as much as I did. It demonstrated that the rock band that fights crime angle is plenty to propel a comic book...although certainly the Moritat art didn't hurt any.

Black Canary (the band) has been hired by a rich, mean lady to play the birthday part of a young super-fan, and Dinah almost blows the gig when she flying kicks one of the party guests: Tobias Whale. It soon becomes evident that the party is full of name criminals, as the little fan is actually a mafia princess, the granddaughter of Carmine Falcone.

Also, a half-dozen assassins have been hired to kill her, so it's a good thing that Black Canary (the character) is also a superhero.

Moritat's art is, as always, fantastic, and while something of a departure from the previous art in the book, I really rather enjoyed his take on the lead, a high-kicking Barbie doll-bodied young woman with a face that looks somewhere between Tim Sale and Naoko Takeuchi. He handles all the other characters quite well too, of course, and his lay-outs and storytelling are superb.

The sequences in which she quietly takes out the assassins are particularly strong, although page 13 is probably my favorite, for its big third panel, showing a a crowd of criminal types in a crowd, watching the show. There's something almost Richard Sala-like about that panel stuffed with creepy, unsavory, comically criminal-looking characters.

In terms of story, this is pretty much what I wish Black Canary has been all along. In terms of art, I really like the work of regular artist Annie Wu, but I also really like that of Moritat. I would be totally, 100% okay with either one of them drawing the upcoming Batgirl and The Birds of Prey.

Oh, the one thing I didn't like about this issue? The first page. It's a full-page splash, a tight close-up of Black Canary (the character) shouting, seemingly directly at the reader. It's a great piece of art, although the lines look incredibly thick compared to those in every panel that follows, and something seems...wrong about it.

What, exactly, is revealed on page 12, when the exact same image reappears as the fourth of the five panels on the page. Apparently, it was blown up to fill the splash on the first page, or the first page was shrunk to fill this panel. I...have no idea why, Perhaps it was written that way, or perhaps this was so hastily assembled that the creators were short a page. I don't know, but it's kinda jakey looking, as my mom would say (spellcheck just underlined the word "jakey," so perhaps my mom is the only one who would say that, as it does not appear to be a real word, as I've suspected for years now).

Legends of Tomorrow #1 (DC) I plan on covering this in a few days at perhaps too-great length, but thought I would at least mention it here, on the off-chance that anyone actually reads these posts looking for recommendations of which new comics to buy or anything. In short, yes, you should probably buy this, as it is really rather Not Bad At All.

As I mentioned on Twitter earlier, and probably when I wrote up DC's solicitations for this month's comics, the entire endeavor seemed incredibly confounding to me. It bears the title of a TV show, but the only character it has in common is Firestorm, with the other 3/4ths of the book devoted to The Metal Men, Metamorpho and, oddest of all, Sugar & Spike, two characters from old gag comics who were babies that talked in baby talk but are here grown-up private eyes for no reason that I can conceive of (By the way Firestorm was created in 1978, Metamorpho in 1965, Metal Men in 1962 and Sugar & Spike in 1956; so more like Legends of Yesterday am I right? ). It's an $8 anthology comic. It doesn't feature any work from any creator that can sell a book by him or herself.

It may have just been how much I lowered my expectations then, but I actually rather liked this quite a bit. These are apparently all New 52 versions of the characters–Firestorm seemed to pick up where the Firestorm comic ended, these Metal Men and Will Magnus look like those from Justice League, and Metamorpho's story is an origin story. But they were all easy to follow, no one seemed to fuck any of the characters up too badly (I had some issues with Metamorpho, and that Sugar & Spike reinvention is just so random). There's nothing ground-breaking in here, but, for the most part, these are a bunch of fun, interesting characters, in well-crafted, self-contained comics.

And despite the crazy-high price point, each feature is 20-pages long–the book has a spine, like one of those comic/trade hybrid "100-Page Spectacular" comics DC published not too long ago–which means you get four comics for the price of two.

After having read this, it looked like DC threw this together to try and sell four different series that would have died immediately had they tried publishing them as individual titles. Not sure if it will work, but if you've got $8 discretionary dollars, there are certainly worse ways to spend them on new comics this week.

Lumberjanes #24 (Boom Studios) As I've mentioned before, that fact that the covers of this comic pretty much never, ever have anything at all to do with the story inside has gotten a little on the irritating side over time, but this one by Kat Leyh is pretty clever (although the whole bottom row does look a bit off-model, don't they?). I don't think I've ever seen the ghost-that-doesn't-show-up-in-the-picture gag in the digital camera age, wherein here the camera's focusing guidelines (or whatever the little yellow squares are called) detects that there's a vampire or whatever up there, but doesn't pick up its image. Pretty neat idea, well executed.

The interiors are, of course, devoid of vampires or Leyh art, but she does continue to co-write, along with Shannon Watters (while Carey Pietsch handles art). This is the conclusion of the Seafarin' Karen and the Selkies plot, which seems like it may have gone on an issue too long (which seems to be the norm with Lumberjanes arcs).

It is, nevertheless, a very solid issue in every respect, and it awards readers with maybe the cutest Lumberjanes badge yet (as my friend pointed out to me), the "Seal of Approval" badge. In-story, the 'Janes earn their Knot On Your Life knot-tying badges, which was the original impetus for this adventure. And they do earn them, as several knots are tied during the climax.

Robin Vol. 2: Triumphant (DC) My ancestral home was recently broken into, and while nothing was stolen, the burglars searched the entire house, even going to the trouble to search most of my comics midden, dumping most of the long boxes just in case I had hidden any hundred dollar bills between issues of Ultimate Spider-Man and Justice League Task Force, I guess. They didn't take any comics, and I think my collection must have eventually tired them out, as by the time they worked their way to the bottom layer of the pyramid of longboxes filling a spare room, they didn't even bother to open the lids. Way to go, Comics Collection! You defeated the trespassers!

So I've begun the daunting task of going through my comics, a task I was really hoping to leave to my nieces and nephew sometime after my death. It's given me a chance to reevaluate whether or not I actually need to keep each and every one of the damn things just because I paid cover price for them at one point, or if I can live without the post-House of M volume of X-Factor or that bonkers Kathryn Immonen-written Hellcat series I didn't understand and never intend to read again.

It was during this (still in-progress, sadly) collection sorting that I realized I was missing a long-box, one filled with issues of Robin and Batgirl. And then I remembered that the one time my apartment got broken into when I lived in Columbus, those burglars had taken a long box (and a jar of nickles, a stack of un-longbox-ed comics and all of my DVDs that weren't sub-titled). So this break-in reminded me of a bunch of comics lost in a break-in years previous, which I had forgotten, because Jesus God I have so many comic books.

This is all a long, long way of saying that I guess it's a good thing DC is collecting old Robin comics, because I lost all of mine. My shop didn't have the first volume, so I'm staring with the second volume.

I did not finish reading it yet, but I'm going to mention here, because those are the rules of this column. This book collects 1991's Robin II: The Joker's Wild and 1992's Robin III: Cry of The Huntress, both by Chuck Dixon and Tom Lyle, as well as Batman #467-469, their sequel to their original Robin mini-series. The collection also includes Batman #465 by Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle, the first issue featuring the new Dynamic Duo.

I guess the organizing principle here then is that DC is collecting all of the Robin Tim Drake comics chronologically...or at least the ones in which he appeared in costume (Between "A Lonely Place of Dying" and Robin, there was a stretch of Tim hanging around the Bat-cave doing computer stuff, and that story where his globe-trotting parents were attacked by The Obeah Man).

I had, of course, read all of these before, and some of them, like Robin II, I've read over and over and over.

These being some of the first comics I've ever read, and Tim Drake having been "my" Robin, a character who was my age who was just debuting as I was starting to read comics,these comics are kinda special to me, and I suppose it may be difficult to evaluate them without worrying if nostalgia tinges my regard for them at all.

Re-reading the first 130 or so pages of this collection today, I was reminded of how (relatively) realistic these comics were, and what great pains writer Chuck Dixon, as well as Alan Grant and the Bat-office's editors went to justify Batman fighting crime with a kid. Robin was new, and there were lots of rules regarding how he could fight crime, what he could and couldn't do, and how to keep from getting killed like Jason Todd.

Damian Wayne grew on me surprisingly fast, but I really like Tim as a character, particularly during these formative years, when he had to ask Alfred to drive him into Gotham City to fight crime, and he went to school with a supporting cast of sorts, and even had enemies of his own distinct from Batman's (King Snake, Lynx and The Ghost Dragons).

I also really like the way Lyle drew his hair and cape, and the way he had both Batman and Robin clutch their capes when they were jumping, forming a crescent moon-like shape as the capes fluttered up and away from their fistfulls of fabric.

Breyfogle's art is, of course, even stronger, and although he drew most of the earliest Tim Drake comics, it was Lyle who drew Robin in his Breyfogle-designed costume the most for a long time. His single issue if full of great images of The Dynamic Duo in action, and he was able to draw a Tim that looked both youthful and appropriately spooky and menacing enough to be standing next to the post-Dark Knight Returns Batman.

Just flipping through this issue one more time, my eyes keep landing on great, dynamic scenes: The pair landing on a rooftop on page two, Robin scaring away a drunk menacing a woman just by demonstrating his skills with his staff over the course of five panels on page 5 (this is the second time in the issue Robin prevents a crime from happening without resorting to violence), his two panel take down of two muggers on page 8, his staff hitting one on the back of the head while his feet hit the other and, of course, the second panel on page 21, where Batman and Robin soar up to the roof of police headquarters to answer the Bat-signal on grappling hooks and lines anchored on the corner of the building. Breyfogle's art is so kinetic, so dynamic that there are panels of this comic that seem practically animated.

When I think of Robin Tim Drake, I inevitably think of Tom Lyle's version, and perhaps that's the case for most readers, but I suppose that was simply because Lyle got more assignments prominently featuring the character than Breyfogle did. As this collection demonstrates, Norm Breyfogle was the best Batman artist of the '90s.

Flipping ahead to the end, I noticed that DC seems to have reproduced most if not all of the Robin II variant covers, which included a goofy hologram sticker embedded in images drawn by some of the best artists you could ask to have draw your Batman covers. The stickers aren't included, obviously, nor were the incredibly complex, poly-bagged gimmick covers of Robin III, which involved sliding out some sort of card behind a semi-transparent cover to simulate the effect of a fluttering cape on a posing character. While I lived, read and collected through the 1990s, I'm pretty sure the covers of Robin III were the most elaborate variants I ever personally encountered, making die-cuts or embedded plastic gems and glow-in-the-dark ink (the only cover enhancement I genuinely thought was cool) seem quaint.

Oh man, I hope those individual issues of Robin II and Robin III didn't skyrocket in value or anything...if so, my nieces and nephew's inheritance won't be worth as much as it might have been if the Columbus burglars had stolen the long box with all the Bloodlines annuals instead...

*Oh hey, look, it's Calvin Rose, AKA Talon! I was wondering if he was dead or not, as I haven't seen him anywhere in so long, so I guess this answers that question.

**Despite the name of my blog, I don't like the title. In fact, I generally hate when song titles are repurposed for the names of comic book stories or, worse still, comic book titles.

1 comment:

Australian Ninja said...

Batman & Robin Eternal ends at #25? I thought it was going to be a year long one like Batman Eternal with 52 issues.
Does this mean we may yet see a Batman Eternal Volume#2 (or Batman Eternal Year two if you prefer).
Holy caped confusion Batman!