Friday, July 22, 2016

Comic Shop Comics: July 20th

Batgirl and The Birds of Prey: Rebirth #1 (DC Comics) Well this was surprisingly bad, and not just because Batgirl's outgoing creative team got me so excited about the possibility of a Birds of Prey book featuring Batgirl (of Burnside),(Grumpy) Black Canary, Spoiler, Bluebird, Vixen and new Oracle Frankie over the course of their last few arcs. No, the writing was extremely amateurish, which makes a certain amount of sense, since writers Julie and Shawna Benson may be professional TV writers, but this is their first attempt at a comic book script. It's over-narrated and poorly narrated, and the plotting is pretty messy, checking boxes in a way that suggests editors Chris Conroy and Mark Doyle likely had a great deal of input. I definitely got the sense that Benson and Benson had read the previous run on Batgirl and Black Canary and maybe some pre-Flashpoint Birds of Prey, but they seemed fairly unfamiliar with New 52 continuity in general, and it certainly seemed like they both skipped Gail Simone's Batgirl run (for which I would not blame them) and that they may even be unaware that there was a New 52 Birds of Prey series.

This basically does a lot of continuity-screwing-around with, in addition to re-inserting The Killing Joke into Barbara Gordon's origin in no uncertain terms after some pains were taking by the Batgirl creative team to kind of at least make it a bit equivocal (although maybe just the sexual abuse part has been excised? It's worth noting that artist Claire Roe changes Barbara's clothes so there are no buttons for The Joker to unbutton...but then, they also must make some random changes, like putting marshmallows in her hot cocoa, so...), they make it so that Barbara Gordon was Oracle at some point between being shot and getting the use of her legs back and making it so she and Canary were a two-woman Birds of Prey team for a while...all of which is "new" to the current continuity, and pretty damn hard to make work in the short, less-than-five years that must have passed between Justice League #1 and Batgirl #1 (Presumably Batman was around at least a few months before Barbara became Batgirl). There's also some weird business involving turning Helena Bertinelli from Grayson into Huntress II of the New 52 DCU which is...awkward, to say the least.

I'll discuss the book in greater detail later in a few days for the next installment of "Afterbirth," but my first impression is pretty extreme disappointment. Pretty great art, pretty poor but not terrible writing and a premise that is laboriously confusing...although maybe not so much if you haven't read any Batgirl or Birds of Prey comics before...? Although, shouldn't the goal be a book for people who are fans of those characters and people new to them, rather than just the latter, and if it were targeted it at just the latter, then they need not have bothered so much with trying to half-explain who Bertinelli is or name-checking supporting characters from Batgirl or Black Canary.

Betty and Veronica #1 (Archie Comics) This is the third of the comics in Archie's new relaunched and rebooted line, following Mark Waid and Fiona Staples' Archie and Chip Zdarsky and Erica Henderson's Jughead, and it was the most iffy of the three going in, based simply on the creators involved with each (If you want to count Sabrina, I guess this is the fourth, but Sabrina is apparently published on some sort of pagan calendar I don't understand, and was also at one time being sold as part of a new Archie Comics horror line with Afterlife With Archie, a book that has turned into something of an annual).

While Waid, Staples, Zdarsky and Henderson are all reliable talents whose work on monthly comics is easily check-out-able at your local comic book shopw, Betty and Veronica is being both written and drawn by Adam Hughes, whose interior comics work is few and far between (I'm having trouble thinking of anything longer than two pages of his I've seen since JLI) and whose writing is...Wait, I don't think I've ever seen Adam Hughes write a comic before.

What he's best known for are his pin-up style covers of DC-published comics like Wonder Woman and Catwoman, and the amount of cheesecake he often brings to the proceedings made him an interesting, even eyebrow-raising choice for a Betty and Veronica comic. Granted, Archie has been sexualizing these two characters in their pages to various degrees for a good three-quarters of a century or so now, but "sexy teen girls" in 2016 is different than in the 1940s, '60s or '80s...especially since the audience for these comics has shifted from little kids to grown-ups.

I'm happy to say then that I was pleasantly surprised. The cover is the only part that looks exactly like the Adams Hughes we've come to known from his cover work. The interior art, colored by Jose Villarrubia, is gorgeous, if awfully slick and photorealistic at points for my particular tastes, and while it is recognizable the work of Hughes, its shockingly effective cartooning from a guy best known for producing single, static images. Why isn't Hughes doing comic books more often...?

The writing is surprisingly good, too. He likely over-writes large chunks of the book, as there are several pages that have the sorts of long dialogue balloon-chains associated with the work of Brian Michael Bendis, but they are all at least employed appropriately (they're conversations, and the drawings associated with them match them). Hughes also draws attention to them in a weird section, where he does use the girls like pin-ups (something not new to Hughes, of course, but likely new to readers who only know Archie Comics from the last few decades), but I'll get to that in a moment.

As for the plot, in a surprisingly literate and elaborate Starbucks joke, the company has bought out the kids' hang-out, and Pop's is in danger of being closed down permanently. The gang–Archie and Jughead appear throughout the issue, and Moose and Midge through much of the issue–set about making plans to save it, although Veronica seems oddly distant throughout (That said, in current Archie continuity, Veronica is new town, and still just getting to know the rest of the gang).

It's a nice, solid plot that ties into what we know about the characters from the other two books and, perhaps refreshingly, it gives our heroines something to fight about that is not Archie. Hughes' dialogue, which is full of gags, is pretty good too, and I was actually impressed by most of it. The gags don't all land–high schoolers Jughead and Archie making an I Love Lucy reference was dated to me, and I just had my 20-year high school reunion last summer–but Hughes subscribes to what I think of as the Marx Brothers rule of comedy. If all the jokes can't be good, just make a lot of them, as frequently as possible, and the good ones will make up for the bad ones.

The weirdest passage is pages 19 and 20, both of which feature single drawings and a lot of white space, filled with dialogue chains.

On the first, there's a small dog house from which Hot Dog's voice emerges (Hot Dog is the narrator). He tells us that he has eaten the pages, and so Betty and Veronica will instead explain what happened on those pages, "and they've agreed to do so while wearing swimsuits, in case that was the kind of comic you were expecting." And so, on the second, we see Betty and Veronica lying in white space in bathing suits, Betty with a copy of Betty and Veronica open in front of her (and covering her breasts) and explaining what's happening to Veronica, lolling around in a one-piece next to her.

As pin-ups go, it's a fairly chaste image–there's a classic Dan Decarlo one showing Betty in a bikini top on the last page of the book–although I suppose its worth noting that the fact that Hughes draws his high school girls so realistically may prove more troubling to some readers than if they were drawn in the old Archie house style perfected by the likes of DeCarlo.

What's weird about these pages is that while they are funny, I assume that the joke of a dog eating the pages like proverbial homework, or working a pin-up into the body of the comic (and a joke about how wordy it is as well) wasn't for the sake of the joke, but because of deadline pressure. I could be wrong in that assumption, of course, but, well, Hughes doesn't draw comic book stories, and it's possible these 23 pages were too much for him.

I hope that was a one-off hiccup, and doens't presage terrible, Sabrina or Afterlife With like delays in the future, because this was surprisingly good, and man, it's great that there are not one, not two, but three good Archie comics available on a monthly basis now. So far, as more are apparently in the works.

As with Archie and Jughead, there are something like a million covers for this, which always sort of depresses me. I only had two to choose from (Hughes' and Zdarksy's, and I chose the latter), but I'd much rather Archie pay those people to produce back-up strips or work on anthology comics than just draw covers that most readers will never even see, aside from in the postage stamp-sized galleries in the backs of these comics.

Also as with the other recent Archie launches, this is a $3.99 comic, but you do get 23-pages of original story, plus a classic back-up, this one drawn by the aforementioned DeCarlo.

Oh, I suppose I should also note that the back cover calls this "The most highly-anticipated debut in comics history" and...doesn't seem to be joking.

Legends of Tomorrow #5 (DC) We appear to be in the home-stretch here; in fact, Sugar & Spike seems to end, as the last panel includes the word "END" real big. But then, we just saw the solicitation for the Sugar & Spike: Metahuman Investigations collection the other day, and it said that it collected the stories from issues #1-#6 of this series, so I don't really know.

In either case, I sure wouldn't mind if DC continued with this format, but with four new features...although I'd suggest maybe making more than one of them star a character that is actually in the show that this generally mediocre but value-priced series is named after.

So what happens in this issue? Firestorm continues to feature Firestorm Firestorm-ing and Metamorpho is still doing its thing. At this point in those narratives, it was a bit more of a chore to get through them, as the interesting aspect for me–seeing what the creators would do with the characters, particularly in the case of Aaron Lopresti on the latter, as he was reintroducing Metamorpho into the New 52-iverse–has at this point long since worn off.

In Sugar & Spike, we get a flashback to how the title characters went from regular private investigators to PIs specializing in cleaning up metahuman messes and they get a new base of operations that looks like it could set-up their further adventures, should DC decide to let them graduate into their own book, or do another Legends of Tomorrow series and keep this feature. We also get a look inside Sugar's closet, which is full of superhero memorabilia that Flashpoint knocked out of continuity.

And, finally, in Metal Men, the two teams of Metal Men come to blows, while the original team's archfoe Chemo rises for the climactic battle in the next (and final?) issue. While all the male Metal Men are all too happy to fight one another, Platinum and Copper seem to get along from the get-go, so perhaps Copper will be joining the team, adding one more female-shaped robot to the line-up, as she did in Duncan Rouleau's Grant Morrison-inspired Metal Men miniseries of 2007 (which was really rather good).

Lumberjanes #28 (Boom Studios) This ends writers Shannon Watters and Kate Leyh and artist Ayme Sotuyo's current story arc, in which Roanoke Cabin teams up with Zodiac Cabin's Hess and Scouting Lad Barney and a bunch of super-powered kittens to save the 'Janes' leadership from a Roc, which looks and acts more like a Thunderbird to me, but then, its their comic, not mine.

There are two big questions answered here. First, what did Barney and Hess realize at the end of the last issue that will help them get out of this predicament (I had no idea), and what exactly did Barney want to talk to the 'Janes' leaders about (exactly what I suspected).

This issue also features maybe the strongest bit of "continuity" we've seen in the book so far. There are always call-backs to past stories and we've gradually gotten to know more about various characters, but I think this was the most dramatic bit in which a plot point from a previous story played any significant role and the suspenseful ending involves the return of a character from the first story arc, which would make her Lumberjanes' first recurring villain.

Snotgirl #1 (Image Comics) I talked a bit about this comic book in Comics Alliance's "Best Comic Books Ever (This Week)" feature the other day (you guys read that, right?), but the dilemma facing me with this book was that while it is the new Bryan Lee O'Malley comic (an ongoing monthly, no less, and one in which he is working with a very talented artist drawing his scripts), it's also called "Snotgirl" and snot seems to be involved in the plot and I'm not real big into bodily fluids of any kind in my comics. As late as Wednesday afternoon I was assuming I would have to flip through it to see how snotty it is before deciding to pick it up.

Well, I decided to pick it up, as you can see my its presence in my post, so while there's a lot more snot than I would like, it is still an O'Malley-written comic full of quite gorgeous art by newcomer Leslie Hung, who is quite likely to become a lot of people's favorite artists pretty soon.

The protagonist is Lottie Person, who has given herself the nickname "Hotgirl," but, at her lowest, perhaps she is really, well, you know the title. Lottie is a 25-year-old fashion blogger whose socially adrift from her boyfriend (with whom she is on a break) and her fellow blogger friends "The Haters Club" when she meets Caroline (who she dubs "Coolgirl") who is, well, really cool.

Everything seems to be going great, until her allergies strike, and her carefully constructed facade of physical perfection is shattered quite dramatically...or is that melodramatically? Something terrible happens on the last page that will likely color where this is going, but I was a little surprised by how much I liked this issue.

That has a lot to do with Hung's gorgeous art style, which is heavily shojo influenced, as is the lay-out of the book and, I'd argue, the content, to some extent.

It is colored by Mickey Quinn, and I'd almost prefer that it not be coored at all, given that the green of the snot, which is the same almost neon shade of Lottie's hair, makes it seem all the yuckier (And yes, I know the conflict between Lottie's sense of aesthetic perfection and the grossness of rivulets of snot is the whole point, but that still doesn't mean I don't think snot is gross. Maybe I have a lot to learn, I guess, and this comic will teach me to be less judgmental of mucous). There's that, and the fact that Hung's style, as great as it looks in color, suggest black in white simply because of its influence, and I still associate O'Malley comics with black-and-white (I never quite got over the fact that Seconds was in color, you know? Like, there was nothing wrong with it being in color, but the whole time I read it, both times, I kept thinking, "Weird, O'Malley in color").

So now I've got a new dilemma: Should I read Snotgirl as its being published, in serial comic book-format comics, or wait for the trade...? I guess I have about a month to think about that.


Unknown said...

"...Betty and Veronica is being both written and drawn by Adam Hughes, whose interior comics work is few and far between (I'm having trouble thinking of anything longer than two pages of his I've seen since JLI)..."

He illustrated the Dr. Manhattan "Before Watchmen" mini-series which was (I think) four issues or so. I didn't have much interest in that story but it was beautifully illustrated from what I remember.

With the "Wonder Woman" movie coming out next year I'm kinda baffled that DC isn't hiring Hughes to finish his "All-Star Wonder Woman" mini-series that he started and then was asked to stop working on prior to "Before Watchmen." A collected editor of it seems like an ideal tie-in to have on the shelves when the movie comes out: a self-contained story to sit alongside "Wonder Woman: Earth One," "The Legend of Wonder Woman," and the OGN that Jill Thompson is releasing later this year. Four completely different takes on the character, all beautifully illustrated and (presumably) accessible to a mainstream audience who doesn't have a masters degree in DC Comics-ology.


Michael Campochiaro said...

What I've seen of Snotgirl's art online looks amazing. Leslie Hung is a name I'll be on the lookout for as her career (hopefully) ascends.