In short, this is a very weird comic book. It's an 80-page, $7.99 comic offering four different 20-page features between a single set of covers. In other words, it's basically four different comic book series, one of which was relaunched as part of 2011's New 52 initiative, the other three of which couldn't reasonably be expected to last 12 issues in the current market were they launched as their own series, sold in bulk, with the appropriate discount (Think of it as four $2 comics, and dropping $7.99 doesn't sound bad at all).
The title is so random that they might as well have called it DC Comics Presents or Showcase or Justice League or Comics or Whatever. Yes, the title is the same as that of a TV show featuring DC characters, but of the four features in here, only one–Firestorm–features a character from that show. Which is maybe the weirdest thing about the book. If you look at the line-up of characters in Legends of Tomorrow (the TV show), which runs in this very issue, it's not hard to find three other characters that could star in the non-Firestorm features here: The Atom Ray Palmer, Hawkman and Rip Hunter. The others on the show are Flash villains Captain Cold and Heatwave, Hawkgirl (who I am pretty sure only exists on Earth-2 in the current DC cosmological status quo) and a version of Black Canary (and Black Canary currently has her own title). Sure, none of those characters are exactly all-stars, and monthlies featuring any of them aren't exactly guaranteed to sell well–especially if paired with the level of talent involved with Legends of Tomorrow (the comic book)*, but then, there's a Sugar and Spike feature in here.
First up is Firestorm by writer (and character co-creator) Gerry Conway and the art team of Eduardo Pansica and Rob Hunter. It's mostly what you would expect from a Firestorm comic, including conflicts about separating, getting stuck and blowing up. I felt pretty uncomfortable during a passage where Conway writes teenager dialogue, including the word "cray-cray" and a reference to Ronnie and Jason asking their mutal female friend to Netflix and chill. I was slightly surprised to see old Captain Atom characters Waid Eiling and Major Force, the latter of whom has such a drastic redesign I thought for a moment he was a Black Lantern version of Major Force.
Next up is Metamorpho, written and drawn by Aaron Lopresti, with inks by Matt Banning. I actually kind of feel bad for Lopresti, because he's essentially re-introducing the character into current continuity, which means a do-over of Metamorpho's origin. Which, inevitably, means begging comparisons to writer Bob Haney and artist Ramona Fradon and, and it's not easy to measure up to either of them, let alone both simultaneously.
His take feels more modern, which is to say more boring (Find and snap up a Showcase Presents: Metamorpho if you can find it; those comics are decades old but still look and read fun and fresh). His Metamorpho character design looks slightly more realistic, which, again, is another way of saying more boring. Java and Simon Stagg are much more dangerous and evil, rather than having the sort of frenemy vibe they had with Rex originally (and I don't care for the way Lopresti draws Stagg, with a fatter face and double chin), and Sapphire is now a brilliant scientist who coaches Rex on the Periodic Table, rather than simply his girlfriend and Simon's daughter (she's sill the latter, not yet the former). It's easy to understand why Lopresti (or anyone) might want to revise Sapphire to give her more to do and to be a more active presence in the feature rather than simply the thing that binds the male characters together, but, well, this is both drastic and obvious. The quartet had more of a dysfunctional family vibe at the point of their creation, here that's not the case.
Oddly, Justice League villain Kanjar Ro is present too, which seems like something of a violation at this point in an origin story (I should note that this seems in keeping with DC's usage of characters from across the character catalog in their TV shows; I'm generally perplexed by who shows up in Supergirl, the show I watch, and all the characters from all over the DCU that have shown up in The Flash and Arrow).
That's followed by the weirdest, and probably best, of the four features, writer Keith Giffen and artist Bilquis Evely's Sugar & Spike. Why are the old DC characters whose entire schtick was that they were babies now a grown-up pair of private eyes specializing in working cases for the superhero set? I have no idea, and, 40 pages in, Giffen sure hasn't offered any suggestions.
Whatever the name of the feature and the names of the characters though–and, thus far at least, they could be any two characters, really–it works. Last issue the two retrieved some of Batman's weird Silver Age costumes from Killer Moth, who was eating them (No, this Batman never had a Silver Age, and yes, this Killer Moth doesn't dress like a moth at all). This time, they go to the island Superman built that is shaped like himself (another Silver Age holdover) in order to find a secret cache of Kryptonite that Superman hid there. Along the way, they meet a bunch of killer toys that are also after the Kryptonite–but they are not the Toyman's toys, which was a surprise (they seem to belong to a different character).
Evely's art makes this–it's by far the best-looking feature in this anthology–and while Giffen's bickering between the protagonists is so harsh and aggressive that it reads a lot like most of his other recent DC work, he's so far demonstrated a knack for finding bits of "forgotten" DC history for his characters to try and rebury on behalf of their employers (Actually, I'm not entirely sure how and if they get paid; like, I know Batman could afford to pay a couple of PI's, but I'm not sure about Superman, just as I'm not sure what he's doing for money now. Last I knew he was a blogger turned professional wrestler).
Finally, there's another installment of Len Wein and Yildiray Cinar and Trevor Scott's Metal Men, working from the version that was introduced by Geoff Johns in his Justice League and "Forever Evil" books and then appeared in the pages of Cyborg. I didn't love those specific designs, and Cinar's art doesn't make particularly awesome use of the characters and their abilities visually, but the Metal Men are rather hard characters to get "wrong" (Like Metamorpho, their original adventures hold up pretty well; look for their Showcase too!). Wein has introduced an Internet villain named
Were these features all being sold separately, I probably would have dropped them all save the theoretictal Sugar & Spike book by now (actually, I never would have even picked up theoretical issues of Firestorm, Metamorpho and Metal Men in the first place), so perhaps there is some wisdom to this format, as weird as elements of it may be.
On a macro level, the book's ability to survive through some pretty dramatic creative team changes is particularly impressive, and probably speaks to the strength of the characters, the concept and the specifics of the milieu that went into the book's original creation. I have noticed that the book has become pretty stagnant, however, with all of the weirdness surround the 'Janes and their camp becoming an accepted norm by all parties–characters, creators, readers–rather than clues to part of a big, mega-storyline (It's as if, to use a TV example, this were a version of The X-Files that was all standalone, weird cases, with no "mythology" episodes).
There's nothing wrong with that, of course, and it may help the book survive another 25, 50 or 100 issues, but it's certainly a zag where I was expecting a zig.
This oversized ($4.99?! Fuck) issue features a cover by original artist Brooke Allen, a 22-page story which certainly reads like a perfectly acceptable standalone story (but is actually to be continued) by the regular creative team, and then a 10-page back-up by writer Chynna Clugston Flores and artists Laura Lewis and Mad Rupert.
That back-up is of special note because Clugston is writing the upcoming Lumberjanes/Gotham Academy crossover series (a six-page preview of which is included herein), and might give readers some clues as to what they might expect from that crossover. I...was not overly impressed, which disappointed me greatly, as I was such a fan of Blue Monday and Scooter Girl. It's not bad, mind you, but Clugston does a lot of narration in the form of April's journal and, well, it's a mode that differs greatly from all previous Lumberjanes stories (and not in a good way), and is also something a lot of comics artists-turned-writers do: Rely too heavily on words.
The artwork on this storyline is great, however; very simple, with lots of small panels on every page (it "reads" as long as the opening story, despite being half its length) and artwork that departs with the more familiar style sharply without contradicting it.
(Oh, by the way, we didn't get a badge for reading this month's issue, which is bullshit.)
But let's talk about this instead:
The great thing–well, one of the great things–about the title is that Scioli generally manages to put at least one awesome thing on every single page, and while that's true in this issue too, here he pulls off something even cooler, as the awesome things continually escalate throughout the entire issue, so that every turn of the page not only brings you something awesome, but something more awesome than on the previous page.
So here's the returned Cobra Commander in his awesome costume, surrounded by loyalists, with the forces of Cobra La and the substitute Cobra Commander just Easter Eggs in a typically baroque panel, here are almost all the masked characters unmasking, here's a drawing of...every single member of the Jotobot alliance?...marching on Megatron, here's... Crystal Ball? The last G.I. Joe figure I personally bought as a child!
And man, Snake Eyes and Scarlet's reunion, or the pages where Wheeljack, Blaster and Metroplex take on Trypticon...? I don't even have words. And there's also a fucking Say Anything allusion...
Seriously, this issue boggled my mind and tied my tongue; I can barely process, let alone talk about, all the great stuff in it.
A note on the unmaskings: In their regular story commentary, the creators discuss the problems of unmaskings that are actually pay-offs, with Scioli saying he doesn't subscribe to the belief that the mask is always more interesting than whatever you can actually show to have been beneath it all along. I disagree.
His Cobra Commander unmasking struck me as just as lame as the unmasking of the character in G.I. Joe: The Movie, which even as a little kid I realized couldn't possibly match the suggestion of the unimaginable a never-removed mask offers. That said, I applaud Scioli for going for it here, and understand that unmaskings play a role in the original Marvel G.I. Joe comic book, which has been a major source of inspiration for this series, at least as prominent–if not more so–than the toy lines or cartoons.
His Snake Eyes unmasking, on the other hand, was a lot more successful, especially since it was accompanied by dialogue. It, unlike the Cobra Commander one, offered a true surprise.
I am both looking forward to and dreading the next issue. Looking forward to it because I always look forward to the next issue of Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe, and because I can't imagine how they're actually going to wrap up this gigantic conflict (Earth has already been destroyed, and Megatron is currently destroying the sun), and dreading it because not only will it be the last original issue of the series (which, sadly, means no more shocking surprises, but of course I can always re-read the issues they've published), but I don't think I'll ever be able to see a G.I. Joe or Transformers comic the same way again. After reading this, it's going to be hard to go back to the non-Scioli iterations, you know...?
*That is, highly competent, but not exactly name, superstar types who move books by their involvement alone. The creators involved in this comic are mostly those from DC's reliable stable of creators, who, were they not doing this, would be doing something else similar for the publisher.