Thursday, July 28, 2016

Comic Shop Comics: July 27th

Archie #10 (Archie Comics) Archie and Veronica stumble into the middle of a campaign controversy, as Hiram Lodge's opponent in the upcoming Riverdale election just so happens to be a rather popular teacher at Riverdale High...and, more saliently, Betty's uncle. Writer Mark Waid devotes much of the issue to the setting up and then unspooling of the problem, which naturally Archie Andrews can't help but make worse and worse the more he tries to fix it. It's not all fun and games, of course. As the book reaches its climax, Waid does a pretty remarkable job of making Archie's clumsiness, generally played for laughs, look like a deep-seated character flaw and a source of angst for the character, and includes a big moment wherein Archie tells Betty exactly what he likes so much about Veronica...which is that her great strength is Betty's one weakness.

It's kids' stuff, sure, but man, it's pretty emotionally powerful kids' stuff.

Artist Veronica Fish continues to do her regular outstanding job with the new Archie designs, her style occupying a perfect sweet spot from which she and Waid can lean in the direction of comedy or drama without the book appearing to strain visually.

The "Classic Archie" back-up is a six-page gag comic from 1964 that highlights the work of writer Frank Doyle, and is illustrated by Harry Lucey and Martin Epp. It's particularly well chosen for this issue, given the way Betty and Veronica feature in it, although the central joke is very much a 1964 joke rather than a 2016 one. That aside, wow, check out Lucey and Epp's line-work, and the dynamic sense of animation they bring to the action.

I don't know how effective all of these classic strip reprints are in terms of introducing modern readers to the work of the old masters, but I know that I personally am noticing greater and greater differences between the work of particular artists, whose work I think we all sort of lump together into an Archie house style because we don't read them that closely. I'm glad this book, and the rest of the new line, are doing these then, as it's nice to have a smart guy like Mark Waid or Chip Zdarsky introduce a particular artist and then get a small, distinct sample of that artist's work to compare and contrast with that of all the others practicing that "house style."

Batgirl #1 (DC Comics) After how great the previous creative team of Cameron Stewart, Brenden K. Fletcher and Babs Tarr's run on the second half of the previous volume of Batgirl was, how luke-warm I was on the new team of Hope Larson (whose older work I've enjoyed, but whom I've only encountered as a writer/artist doing her own thing, not a writer of super-comics) and Rafael Albuquerque (a great artist, but not one with a style I personally found as exciting, unique and as much of a break with the rest of DC's line as I did Tarr), and how confusingly poor last week's Batgirl And The Birds of Prey: Rebirth #1 was (scroll down for a pair of reviews), my expectations for this issue were set pretty low.

It did manage to surpass them though.

Perhaps wisely, Larson takes Barbara Gordon out of Burnside, and Gotham City altogether. The rationale proffered in the last issues of the previous volume seemed a little weak, but, here in the real world, it does allow Larson and Albuquerque a way to avoid direct comparisons with the previous creative team. If Babs is journeying to Asia to re-find herself, well, it allows the new creative team, and the book itself, to find themselves before plunging back into the more familiar Barbara Gordon milieu of Gotham City (Although it may be worth noting that she is in Gotham in Batgirl and The Birds of Prey, which is set after the first story arc of Batgirl, and she was also there in the first issue of Nightwing, which also shipped this week).

She's gone to Japan, in part to interview 104-year-old former (?) bat-themed crime-fighting vigilante Fruit Bat, given the fact that the average lifespan of a superhero is 40 (Actually, I don't know how many superheroes have actually died in the post-Flashpoint DCU yet...and, of course, stayed dead. Damian died at 10, so if the average is 40, then that means someone really old must have died at some point too, but since there's only been a single generation of superheroes now, at least not that Barbara would know of, since DC Universe: Rebirth intimated the existence of the Justice Society's heroes. Batman and Jason Todd both died young, and came back to life. So maybe they, like Damian, don't count, since they didn't stay dead. Superman's dead, but he was also pretty young, somewhere in his twenties, right? Actually, let's not even think about it, okay?)

Babs gets to see the very old super-lady in action, as she takes on and frightens off a girl in a sailor suit and dumb face-paint (you can see the pair on the cover). She also meets an old friend from Chicago, who is coincidentally staying in the same room at the same hostel she is.

Larson's plotting and script are just fine. Albuquerque's artwork is also just fine. Babs appears a lot less stylish than I'm used to seeing her now, as she's dressed the entire issue as is she were out hiking, and I wasn't crazy with the designs of the new characters (Like, it always strikes me as a little weird when heroes in other cultures or countries dress in traditional or stereotypical costumes; it's not like all American heroes dress like Uncle Sam or cowboys, you know?).

The book does seem to be off to a pretty good start though, and I'm certainly planning on reading #2.

The Demon Vol. 2: The Longest Day (DC) This collects the second half of writer Garth Ennis and artist John McCrea's relatively short run on The Demon, which closed out the title (and immediately preceded their work on Hitman, for which this was a clear warm-up, and even introduced several players, from relatively minor ones to the title character and long-time supporting cast members). As with the previous volume, this one includes some art by someone other than McCrea, as well as introduction from Ennis.

I can't wait to read it. I've only read a handful of the issues in this particular collection (for whatever reasons, issues from the first half of their run were easier to come by via back-issue bin).

I'm glad that DC took the advice offered by impromptu rap duo Etrigan, The Demon and The Phantom Stranger in the pages of All Star Section Eight--
--and did indeed collect them twenty dope issues by Ennis and McCrea

Scooby-Doo Team-Up #17 (DC) Oh, Hawkman. On page three are two dialogue-filled panels of Hawkman, Hawkgirl and an employee of the Midway City Museum that managed to tell their often quite complicated origins swiftly and efficiently. I was impressed that writer Sholly Fisch, maybe the least-appreciated of the great writers DC employs on a monthly basis, was able to boil any Hawkman origin down into so little space, and still have time for a Green Arrow dis.

Of course, this being Hawkman, Fisch returns later for another seven panels further explaining. I actually lost track of the pre-Flashpoint Hawkman's origins (I don't remember the Brightest Day business very well anymore, other than that it was hella violent), but this seems to be the Silver Age Hawkman and Hawkgirl, with the bits about reincarnation from Geoff Johns and Rags Morales' run on the Hawkman title in which the pair were various heroes throughout DC history, grafted on.

Even still, that's a pretty smooth, efficient introduction to the characters' complicated origins (which always get further complicated the more writers try to "fix" them and, of course, whenever DC tries to "fix" it's whole continuity with history-altering reboots and rejiggerings). Not to mention a nice introduction to the characters and their general premise. I'm not sure if Scooby-Doo Team-Up actually functions this way, I'm not sure if it's supposed to function this way, but at least with the secondary DC superhero team-ups, it certainly introduces Scooby-Doo readers to characters that young readers could graduate to reading more about...eventually, of course, when they're old enough to be able to find, understand and/or stomach the "Rated T For Teen" adventures of many of these characters.

So there's a mystery at the Midway museum, and since the curators Carter and Shiera Hall aren't around, Midway museum's Mavis decides to call in Mystery, Inc. The Hawks arrive mid-investigation, and when the supposedly dead alchemist seeking to reclaim his notebook from a display case is unmasked, he turns out to be–spoiler alert–a trio of Hawkman villains sharing a disguise.

Scooby's clumsiness, Fred's bravery and the Hawks' wings and quick-thinking are all it takes to subdue the trio, and nobody gets brained with one of the maces the pair are toting around.

Even though Shaggy should probably at least have been threatened with a mace in the last panel, in which Shaggy improbably cracks everyone up by saying "As far as I'm concerned, fighting spooky super-villains-- --is strictly for the birds!."

Wonder Woman #3 (DC) And now we jump back to the Liam Sharp-drawn, modern-day Wonder Woman story, "The Lies." I know it's still early days here, but honestly I think the alternating issues telling different stories set in different eras and drawn by different artists is working pretty well so far. It certainly helps that the book now ships bi-weekly–I can't imagine this working were it on a monthly schedule–and I'm curious to see if writer Greg Rucka and DC can keep this up after the initial story arcs, which of course are easily delineated from one another (The Nicola Scott-drawn "Year One" is an origin story, while "The Lies" is set in present day).

Essentially, DC is publishing two different Wonder Woman books both written by Greg Rucka, but they are doing so in a way that doesn't impact sales the way it would have had they actually published them under different titles (The perceived "secondary" titles generally sell worse than the perceived main one; so, for example, if they were also publishing a Wonder Woman: Year One miniseries, it would likely be selling worse than Wonder Woman).

So Wondy continues to try and convince her friend-turned-supervillain Barbara Minerva to help her, while Steve Trevor and his team of soldiers pursue an African warlord. It turns out, unsurprisingly, that the threats are related: The deity that turned Minerva into The Cheetah is also the patron god of the warlord.

Sharp's artwork continues to be amazing. It's highly detailed and precisely inked, and the jungle settings as well as the style reminded me of Alan Moore-era Swamp Thing comics, only with the production values of today, of course. I wasn't overly crazy about Sharp's Cheetah design, but he does this great bit of "acting" with the character where her face, body and hair slide along a spectrum of calm and bestial, so that she practically transforms when she makes an "angry big cat" face and her hair bristles.

There's a rather weird scene where Wonder Woman essentially physically restrains and loves Cheetah into submission, while the latter rants and raves about the need for human flesh like it was a heroin addiction, that is in keeping with Wonder Woman's tradition of loving enemies to convert them into allies as well as having a bit of bondage or domination/submission involved, but she does so without a magic rope, just her body, most of which is off-panel during the page and a half or so in which the pair roll around on the jungle floor together, and the panel just focuses on their heads and shoulders.

It's awfully damn weird to have a readable, in-continuity Wonder Woman comic book again after so long, let alone one that looks as good as this one does. I'm still not entirely sold on the "Year One" arc that will run in between the Sharp issues (It's the one with all the stiff competition, and we've only seen a single issue of it so far), but two and a half issues into "The Lies," I am rather enjoying its half of Wonder Woman.


Matt said...

I was under the impression that Doyle gave up drawing before coming to work for Archie and that he was just (hardly "just" as he was fantastic) the writer of Archie throughout much of the 60's. I haven't read Archie #10 or its backup, so I don't know if he was credited as the artist in the book, but most Archie throughout the 60's was drawn by either Harry Lucey and Dan DeCarlo.

There's a great book from Bart Beaty on that era of Archie Comics called "Twelve Cent Archie" published through Rutgers University Press. Awesome stuff.

Caleb said...

D'oh! You're right. Waid was highlighting Doyle in his article, but the art in the actual strip that followed was drawn by Harry Lucey and Martin Epp. I tried to fix it in the post. Thanks.