Thursday, March 03, 2016

Comic Shop Comics: March 2

This was one of those week's where DC's admirable insistence to stick to the $2.99 price point as much as possible resulted in my handful of new purchases all being DC-brand comics again. I flipped through some Marvel's I'll read in trade some day, and looked somewhat longingly at the new Predator miniseries and the the first official issue of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers comic, but won't they be in back-issue bins for a buck or two in a few months? Won't they be collected in trade paperbacks in a few more?

(Also, I've been forced to labor in my comics midden lately, and am completely overwhelmed by the current amount of comic book-comics in my possession; I'd switch to all trades, if I weren't somewhat addicted to the ritual of Wednesday comic book shop visitation, and the pleasure of reading comics in that format).

Anyway, the reason I bring this up is because I was therefore bombarded with reminders that Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, the legal case of the century, will be in theaters March 25. Four of the five DC Comics I purchased had a tiny little banner on the front cover, above the logo, saying so, with the title characters of the film staring at one another...well, their silhouettes. I think it's a black and white film?

Three of the books (Batman & Robin Eternal, DC Bombshells and Swamp Thing) had a Batman V Superman ad on the inside front cover, featuring the two characters staring at one another in a close-up (Actually, maybe it is in color, I see a bit of flesh color around Ben Affleck's chin and Henry Cavill's face). All three also feature back-cover ads for Batman V. Superman breakfast cereals, where you can choose Batman's Chocolate Strawberry Cereal or Superman's Caramel Crunch Cereal to show "show your allegiance" (I would go with Batman on this one, but they both sound kind of disgusting).

All three also had ads for Wondercon that feature a Jason Fabok image based on the film; it actually took me a few moments to study it for clues to see that it is based on the film, as seeing Wonder Woman's costume in red, blue and glinting silver looked more like the comic book version than the film's apparently brown, brown and bronze version.

Swamp Thing and Batman & Robin additionally feature two, two-page spread ads related to the film. One shows a giant version of the ad on the cover, with the words "Ge Ready for the most epic battle of 2016 by reading these graphic novels!" and then shows ten graphic novels, of which Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Morrison, Porter and Dell's JLA Vol. 1 the only ones I'd recommend without any reservation or disclaimers or qualifiers (Batman: Hush, Wonder Woman Vol. 1: Blood and Superman/Batman: Vol. 1 all have their moments and aspects but, again, qualifiers are needed).

The other is for a set of toys, er, 1/6 scale statues based on the movie's versions of the characters.

Batgirl was also full of ads for the movie, but in a slightly different arrangement. It had the two-page graphic novel recommendation spread, and then three character-specific ads throughout: One featuring Batman, one featureing Wonder Woman and one featuring Superman.

All four had interviews with film director Zack Snyder on the "DC All Access" page, which is usually devoted to short q-and-A interviews with creators about one new comic or another.

After this Wednesday, I'm really looking forward to March 25–then I won't have to see so many damn ads for this movie.

And now, the parts of the comics that weren't ads for Batman V. Superman: Oh, And Wonder Woman Too...

Batgirl #49 (DC) Under artist Babs Tarr's James Jean-impression of a cover is a guest artist-filled issue, with Tarr providing the framing sequences for passages by Horacio Domingues, Roger Robinson, Ming Doyle and James Harvey. That many artists within 20-pages is usually bad news, but not only are these all good artists, they are employed strategically.

The premise of this issue is that Frankie journeys into the unconscious Batgirl's mind to try and root out all of the influence of bad guy Fugue, who has been messing with her mind the last few issues, and so Tarr draws the parts of the book set in the "real" world, while the guest-artists each take plunges into Batgirl's memory. And Harvey is always a welcome presence; I would love to see him get a regular gig featuring characters I like.

Now that we've only got two issues left of this volume of Batgirl, and we know that this summer will bring a new volume of Batgirl as well as a new series called Batgirl and The Birds of Prey, it's pretty clear what's going to happen in the next few issues, as Batgirl, Frankie, Black Canary and their new allies Bluebird and Spoiler try to stop Fugue from deploying the Negahedron to destroy Gotham.

Well, at least parts of it are clear. I'm really excited about the prospect of two Batgirl comics, one featuring this particularly line-up of Gotham crimefighters, but I'm also a little worried, as the main reason I've enjoyed the last dozen or so issues of this book has been artist Tarr and the rest of the creative team, and we don't yet know for certain if they and their particular take on the characters will be involved in the post-"Rebirth" Batgirl comics...

Batman & Robin Eternal #22 (DC) After last week's detour into the secret origin of Harper Row and her relationship to Batman, this issue returns to the Robins, who have just been joined by Damian, as they plan to stop Mother's diabolical, satellite-based plan and rescue Harper and Cassandra.

The heart of the issue, scripted this week by Genevieve Valentine and drawn by an apparently rushed FErnando Blanco, is an extended flashback presented as a motivational story Damian tells the other three Robins to help pump them up for facing the impossible odds. It involves him training with Batman in the Batcave and Batman admonishing him for a mistake; in the course of their conversation, Damian compares himself to the other three Robins, and he and Batman both come to the conclusion that he's really only the fourth best Robin in terms of fighting skills...although Batman then gives a message about how he doesn't want them to all be soldiers, but just be themselves and whatever (Also, I wonder why Batman was training Damian how to stab people with a knife).

It's kind of a weird scene. Not the climax, as Batman's message makes sense, and ties in to the story around it, but that Damian or Batman would suggest Damian's not the best Robin, in terms of fighting prowess. Damian is the one who trained since birth as an assassin, with Ra's al Ghul, Talia and The League of Assassins as his mentors. And he's only ten. He showed up in Gotham able to kick everyone else's asses, and has on more than one occasion taken down the other three.

As per usual, the artwork is somewhat problematic, as details appear and disappear, but the worst part is probably the staging of what should have been a really funny scene. When Dick says something hopeless sounding, the diminutive Damian slaps him across the face.
Given the several feet of size difference, Damian would have either had to jump, or, better still, crooked a finger and asked Dick to lean in close, so he could then slap him.

Aw well...

DC Comics Bombshells #10 (DC) Hey, Marguerite Sauvage is back! Thank God! I was beginning to worry we had seen the last of her in this book, as she moved on to bigger, maybe better things. Her presence here really renewed my enthusiasm for the series, which was waning a bit.

Of course, that may have been in part simply to the focus on other, less interesting characters in the past few issues. This issue, in addition to featuring the return of Sauvage, also features the two plotlines I'm most interested in: Those of Wonder Woman and A League of Their Own-style Batwoman.

The Wonder Woman section, drawn by Laura Braga, remains probably the best version of the character and her essential story I've encountered in years, at least at such length (there were certainly some pretty great shorts in Sensation, and the first two issues of The Legend of Wonder Woman have been great). Perhaps Wonder Woman just works best in the 1940s...? (That, or perhaps Margeurite Bennett or Renae De Liz should be writing her monthly, DCU book..?) Whatever; this story even includes a bit about having soldiers surrender to and submit to Wonder Woman. Marston would be proud!

Braga also draws one incredibly scary-looking monster-horse in this section.
Man, look at that thing's head!

The other passage involves the Bombshell versions of Catwoman and Huntress teaming up with Batwoman. There's a pretty fantastic moment where Kate Kane throws a baseball at the ground (where was she hiding a baseball?), and it explodes into a cloud of ninja smoke. In the very next panel, like two seconds later tops, she's dressed in her Batwoman outfit, complete with hat and mask, like she just had an anime transformation sequence, rather than changing outfits under cover of smoke.

Also, her bat can turn into a gun, which is pretty awesome.

I found a few of the layouts a bit confusing this issue, as it was unclear to me whether I was meant to read them across or up and down, which I think is due to the digital-first nature of the book.
But whatever, Sauvage art heals all wounds.

Scooby-Doo Team-up #15 (DC) This issue's DCU guest-star is The Flash, who Dario Brizuela draws to resemble Wally West (not the Wally eyes on the costume, and the giant sandwich-eating on the cover), but is apparently meant to be Barry Allen, who says at one point "I have a good grasp of forensics and crime scene investigation," but then, writer Sholly Fisch never gives The Flash a name or has him take off his mask, so perhaps the idea is to keep it vague for readers, as it ultimately doesn't matter much.

After Scooby and the gang help The Flash capture Mirror Master in Central City, they journey to Gorilla City, which is being haunted the the ghost of a gorilla. And it is not Gorilla Grodd behind it, despite the fact that he is, as King Solovar points out, "Gorilla City has only one criminal."

This is far from my favorite of the Scooby-Doo/DCU hero team-ups, but then, that's mostly because Fisch did such an astounding job with the Wonder Woman and Aquaman team-ups, that they're pretty impossible to beat.

Oh, by the way, this was the only comic I bought this week that was devoid of ads for Batman V. Superman: Civil War. There's not even one for the breakfast cereals! Surely there's a huge overlap in the demographics of people who like Scooby-Doo and people who eat sugary breakfast cereals.

Swamp Thing #3 (DC) This series started out as a pretty basic, even generic kind of Swamp Thing, horror-hero comic: Swamp Thing fights a zombie, The End. Last issue ended with an intriguing climax, and here, in the third issues (and half-way point of the six-issue mini-series), something incredibly dramatic happens, something that should be a real game-changer in the world of Swamp Thing. I mean, it is almost certainly temporary–I'd think so even if this was an ongoing series, because it is such a radical change–but I was still a little surprised about how big it is.

The issue starts with Swamp Thing wrestling a boa constrictor for fun in the swamp–I guess the swamp is awfully boring without Abby around?–when Matt Cable appears, a powerful, wish-granting magical artifact stolen from Nanda Parbat (So maybe we'll get to see Kelley Jones draw Deadman again in a future issue?) in tow. Cable tells Swampy that he's retired from the FBI and has been traveling the world, meeting with mystic DCU characters and trying to find a cure for Swamp Thing/Alec Holland's condition (and not, apparently, being a raven in service to Dream in The Dreaming; I tried very hard not to think about continuity and how Flashpoint affected the Vertigo "universe" and the DCU while reading, but it wasn't easy for me!).

To activate the artifact, they need a magician, and so they pile into Cable's car (sadly, no drawing of Swamp Thing riding in the passenger seat of a car) and head to the castle (?) where Zatanna lives.

Writer Len Wein has edge into telling a pretty dramatic Swamp Thing story, and filling it with guest-stars for added excitement, but as compelling as such things might be to many readers, I mainly regard his script as an excuse for Kelley Jones to draw all kinds of stuff he's great at drawing: Monster men, the swamp, snake skin, castles, brickwork, corpses and/or piece of corpses, and so on.

This is the best work I've seen from Jones in quite a while, and I've even been somewhat surprised with how good some of it is, particularly his Zatanna, as drawing regular human beings, especially attractive young women, isn't exactly his strongest suit.

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