Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Comic Shop Comics: April 6

Archie #7 (Archie Comics) In this issue of the ongoing saga of Archie Andrews–and man, how weird is it that Archie Andrews is involved in an ongoing saga?–our hero decides he must dislodge rival Reggie Mantle from the Mantles, and so he turns to Jughead and Pop for help. He succeeds, but mostly by proving so pathetic that Pop decides to save the day. Veronica Fish is still drawing, Mark Waid is still writing and it is still really good. Seriously, I swear it. If you haven't been following the revamped Archie, the first six issues are now available in a great trade collection that includes such extras as all one million variant covers for the first issues, and the entirety of Chip Zdarsky and Erica Henderson's Jughead #1.

Batgirl #50 (DC Comics) I can't remember the last time I was so disappointed by a particular issue of a comic book as I was upon reading Batgirl #50, although my disappointment with the book has absolutely nothing to do with the quality–or at least, not directly.

If you've been reading Batgirl for the last few months (or even if you were just reading my hurried little Wednesday night reviews of it), then you probably know that these last few months writers Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher have been having Babs' roommate (and computer expert) Frankie becoming increasingly involved in crimefighting with her, with Frankie repeatedly referring to having come up with a codename for herself, one that begins with the letter O. Also, grumpy Black Canary has returned to Gotham City (and the pages of Batgirl). And Babs has even recruited local teenage crimefighters Spoiler and Bluebird to help her out against her current foe, The Fugue. all female team of street-level crimefighters that includes Barbara Gordon and Black Canary, a behind-the-scenes computer expert with a codename beginning with the letter O...that sounds pretty familiar. Could DC be building towards launching a new Birds of Prey series, this one differentiated from the previous volume by being awesome, rather than terrible? That's what I've been hoping for since DC released the cover of this issue back in January. And, in February, when they announced the new title Batgirl and The Birds of Prey, I was all but certain that DC would be spinning that book out of this book.

Well, as we learned recently, they're not. Batgirl and The Birds of Prey will be written by some TV writers, and will feature Batgirl, a (slightly) redesigned Black Canary and a dramatically redesigned Huntress (no word on which Huntress from which universe yet, though). What about the rest of these girls? Well, we know Spoiler will be in the pages of Detective Comics, and Bluebird is MIA; according to last week's issue of Batman & Robin Eternal, she's going into semi-retirement to go to college.

And just like that, my months of hoping for a Stewart/Fletcher/Tarr Birds of Prey (although I would have accepted Annie Wu or David LaFuente or Bengal or soemone if Tarr was going to be sticking with Batgirl) were dashed.

This issue, and the "Rebirth" announcements, dashed them even further. This is actually the last issue of the Stewart/Fletcher/Tarr team's Batgirl, and oversized ending to their 15-issue run. The next two issue will be written by Fletcher and drawn by Eleanora Carlini, presumably treading water until June's Batgirl: Rebirth #1 launches a brand-new Batgirl book in a possibly (probably?) rejiggered DCU by a new creative team.

And that's damn disappointing, given how good this book has consistently been. I wish the new creative team luck and all, but a good 95% of the pleasure I've derived out of every issue of this series has come from Tarr's goddam sexy she draws everyone, how well she costumes everyone, all the awesome expressions she puts on Babs' face...

As I mentioned elsewhere today, Batgirl was pretty much a perfect example of how to relaunch a character: You get top, fresh talent with a distinct style and vision, and you let them do something different with the character than what the last creative team were doing. It need not be a cosmic continuity-shaking event; it can be as simple as a change of clothes, a focus on a neighborhood and a supporting cast, and some new characters. The Stewart/Fletcher/Tarr Batgirl wasn't a reboot, but it was refreshing, and it's the sort of thing that one would hope DC would learn to replicate, rather than simply rebooting their continuity every few years and shifting the same 50 or so writers and artists between books.

So this issue was terribly disappointing to read, as it dashed my hopes for the future of Batgirl, for the Birds of Prey and for just how final the conclusion is. In that respect, it's a nice wrap-up of the creative team's entire run (which should end up being just three very solid trade collections worth of comics), with a pretty perfect ending for Batgirl and her supporting cast. The thing is, the ending is so final that it seems pretty damn clear that some kind of continuity rejiggering will be a part of "Rebirth," since Barbara's status quo at the end of this book would seem to be in conflict with the premise for the next volume of Batgirl (For further evidence of a reboot aspect to "Rebirth," check out this Wednesday's Harley Quinn and Suicide Squad April Fool's Day Special, which features the old, pre-Flashpoint Amanda Waller).

As for this issue, it's damn good. Batgirl's new foe The Fugue has gathered just about every villain she's encountered over the last 15 issues–Dagger Type! The Jawbreakers! The Velvet Tiger! Corporal Punishment, AKA Vicki! Plus Killer Moth, whose New 52 redesign is the worst!* They are each tasked with helping him set up a different section of the Negahedron thingee, with which he plans to kill everyone in Burnside. It's up to Batgirl and the ladies on the cover to split up and take them all down.

Spoiler alert: They do. Six weeks after she's saved the day, she and Frankie have got Gordon Clean Energy up and running in Burnside, with here friends all gainfully employed there, and a sort of Batgirl-cave built in the basement.

The issue is 38 (story) pages long, and Tarr gets plenty of help in filling them. Roger Robinson, John Timms, Eleanora Carlini and James Harvey all draw portions of the book, and Stewart handles some breakdowns again. The artists are all chosen wisely and deployed strategically; it's often difficult to tell who's drawing what, exactly; it's an extremely, even surprisingly, consistent-looking comic given how many artists are involved. The high page-count comes with a price-bump–this issue is $4.99–so it is perhaps a little irritating that so much real estate is spent on video game-like splashes announcing which hero is fighting which villain. There's also two pin-ups, one by Stewart and another by Joe Quinones.
Like I said, it's a pretty perfect conclusion. I was a little surprised to see that Luke Fox only got a single panel in his civilian identity (I guess he's taking that retirement from Batwing pretty seriously, despite suiting up recently in the pages of this very title), and that Babs' dad didn't show-up in some capacity (although a hacked and hijacked version of his robot suit does), if only because this issue is pretty focused on rounding up all of Babs' allies and enemies for one bit, multi-front showdown.

You know what's most disappointing about this issue? Not only is it the end of the Stewart/Fletcher/Tarr team on Batgirl, but it's the (apparently) end of the team at DC. They're not moving on to Batgirl and The Birds of Prey, they're not going to attempt to reinvent Supergirl the way they did Batgirl, they're not doing a new series starring the 1990s Superboy (something I've been daydreaming about ever since Tarr did that sweet Convergence tie-in cover. Instead, they're doing a creator-owned thing for Image, which, admittedly, looks pretty cool, and will definitely be something I check out.

I know it's got to be more satisfying to do your own thing, and to devote that energy to something you own, but man, DC is a poorer publisher without this team and, especially, without Tarr, who quickly became one of their most distinct and all-around best artists over the course of the last year and a half or so.

Kill la Kill Vol. 2 (Udon Entertainment) I enjoyed the first volume enough to pick up the second. It retains the same pleasures as the first, even if the surprise of a narrative about sentient Japanese school uniforms that imbue their wearers with powers has worn off.

Providence #8 (Avatar Press) Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows do this neat thing this issue which is one of those things that can only be done in comics, and doing things that can only be done in comics is one of the great indicators of a great comic. While two characters, our protagonist and point-of-view character Robert Black and his latest interviewee have a conversation, and while that character is telling Black a story, the panels illustrate that story, even though the dialogue is that of Black and the teller, their dialogue coming in bubbles spoken by characters in that story (Well, it could be done in film, I suppose, but not as easily or effectively).
They use a similar trick a little later on, when Lord Dunsany gives a reading.

Oh yeah, Lord Dunsany is in this issue. So too is H.P. Lovecraft. Thus far, Moore has had Black traveling around meeting what are apparently meant to be the real-world analogues to the character fictionalized in Lovecraft's stories, but here Black and Lovecraft actually meet, shake hands and plan to spend some time together in Rhode Island in the future. It certainly feels like a turning point in the series; if nothing else, it is depicted with a great deal of portent.

Burrows also draws the hell out of a dream sequence, smartly constructed by Moore. I do wish the book discarded all the prose back matter, if only so Avatar wouldn't feel the need to charge $5 a pop for the book. I feel like it's not getting the attention it deserves, and while I imagine there are plenty of reasons for that, one of them is probably the fact that it's not a cheap read. Perhaps it will find a wider audience in its eventual collected format.

Swamp Thing #4 (DC) This is a Kelley Jones-drawn comic, so, really, there's little to do in terms of review, aside from scan panels and shout, "Look! Look how awesome this is! Jones is the best, isn't he?"

So last issue saw a very big, very unexpected twist–and not just because the last time we saw Matthew Cable he was a talking raven hanging out with The Sandman. He helped restore Alec Holland's humanity, but, in the process, he became the new Swamp Thing. Because "the universe demands there must always be a balance, always be a Swamp Thing." That's just physics. I think Isaac Newton coined that.

The de-Swamp Thing-ifciation of Holland occurred in Zatanna Zatara's family castle (?), and she tells the now naked Alec that "I think I still have some of my dad's old clothing that should fit you." I can't tell you how disappointed I was that the next time we see Alec, he's just wearing a black shirt and black pants, and not a tuxedo and top hat. I just assumed Zatara's wardrobe was nothing but tuxedos.

Once in the swamp, Alec starts training Matt in how to Swamp Thing, and there's this pretty hilarious scene where Matthew literally tears a poacher into five pieces in a spectacularly overwrought panel, and Alec simply scolds him as if he accidentally hit a baseball through his window or something.

Check it out:
Alec's response? "What the hell did you just do? There were so many less lethal ways of dealing with him." Yes. And even if you were going to kill him, couldn't you just strangle him or break his neck? Or tear him in half? Why rip him into so many pieces? Why rip the top half of his head off? Who rips a head in half, rather than just ripping it off?

"Look, it's getting late," Alec says, as if changing the subject.

As if that scene weren't indication enough, Matt goes bad, and abuses his new Swamp Thing powers. Will Alec be able to stop him? Probably. But then, the suspense of the conflict isn't what one reads a Kelley Jones Swamp Thing comic for, is it?

*The first time I saw Killer Moth in the New 52 was in Legends of Tomorrow #1, and this week he's in both Batgirl and the aforementioned Harley Quinn and Suicide Squad special. His costume is just...a gas mask? And he has some tanks on his back? Plus a cocoon gun? And, um, that's it? He doesn't look anything at all like a moth of any kind, killer or otherwise! He seems particularly out of place here, and could probably have been easily replaced with those videogame guys or Livewire, but I guess he could be considered one of Batgirl's archenemies, whether he appeared in this run of comics or not. And he didn't.

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