Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Comic Shop Comics: August 24th

Archie #11 (Archie Comics) Woah, woah, woah, woah, woah. Woah. I saw something truly shocking in this issue of the ongoing Archie seriew by writer Mark Waid and rotating artists, this time the team of Ryan Jampole and Thomas Pitilli. On the last page, in an orange box in the lower right-hand corner, are the words "To Be Concluded."

Those are the sorts of words you put in the penultimate issue of a miniseries, not the eleventh issue of an ongoing series. If the new Archie, which launched a year or so ago with 12,000 variant covers for its #1, was only going to be a limited series all along, well, no one told me personally. And if they announced such information, I somehow missed hearing it/failed to retain such information.

But the contents of this issue in large part point towards a conclusion of much of what we've seen in the series thus far, with Archie Andrews and Betty Cooper finally finding some resolution to the conflict that drove and kept them apart throughout the preceding ten issues. Additionally, Archie's standing in school and in town is at something of a crisis point. And, looking at real-world factors, next issue will be the 12th, a good place to end a limited series, allowing for a series to be easily divided into two six-issue collections or three four-issue collections, and, perhaps, Mark Waid can't continue to write this series forever, although I was hoping he would at least write this red-headed, all-American protagonist as long as he wrote Marvel's red-headed, all-American protagonist Matt Murdock.

It is, of course, possible that the "To Be Concluded" is simply acknowledgment that the events in the last two panels will be dealt with and resolved next issue, as there's quite a little cliffhanger here, one that could re-set the status quo of Archie Comics' core love triangle back to a more familiar arrangement (although "to be continued" works just as well for that) or that the story arc is going to be concluded next issue, followed immediately with a new one in Archie #13. The thing is, this issue was presented as the first part of a story(or the 11th part, for that matter), as there is no story title included.

At any rate, I am now deeply worried that either the book will end, the book will be renumbered with a new #1 for a new "season" of Archie, or that Waid will move one, and while I'm sure he's not the only writer capable of writing a winning Archie, the fact of the matter is that it required a bit of a risk to convince readers to try the new Archie and, well, now we trust Waid in a way we didn't before. As I've recently discovered–like, this week–a creative team change can be enough to make a reader drop a book entirely, even when the new team is doing a good, quality job (I dropped Batgirl after reading this week's second issue by Hope Larson and Rafael Albuquerque; it turns out I was much more of a Babs Tarr fan, and Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher fan, than I was a Batgirl fan, it turned out. I'll still keep an eye on the book and keep up with events via library trades and what not, but I pulled it off of my pull-list).

Hopefully I am fretting over nothing, though, and the little orange box just chose to use the word "concluded" instead of "continued."

The artwork this issue comes from Mega Man artist Ryan Jampole, credited with "breakdowns", and Thomas Pitilli, credited with "finishes." Curiously, both are described on the back cover as "rising star artists," and Pitilli's credits listed are Entertainment Weekly and New York Times, which would make him an illustrator rather than a comic book artist, no?

They do a fine job. In fact, if you hadn't told me, I might not have noticed that it wasn't Fish drawing this particular issue; I might have just thought she was in a hurry or had help with the layouts, which are a little stiffer and more formal than those in her previous issues (but only on, like, a few pages). The faces are slightly rounder, slightly cuter, but each page has the somewhat scratchy, ink-heavy look of Fish's artwork.

Now I'm really curious for Archie #12. Because this issue involves our characters divided into two opposing garage bands competing in a school talent show, Mark Waid gives us a one-page article about The Archies, the real band that pretended to the band of the Archie Comics characters and generated that very popular if very annoying "Sugar, Sugar" (best known to me personally for the Mary Lou Lord and Semisonic cover of it that was one of the tracks on 1995 album Saturday Morning: Cartoons' Greatest Hits, a favorite cassette tape of mine at the time, pairing as it did many favorite bands and artists with cartoon theme songs).

That is then followed by a six-page strip from 1968, featuring Archie, Jughead and...Reggie, I think?...trying to find a place to rehearse their terrible, terrible music.

Harley's Little Black Book #4 (DC Comics) For the fourth issue of the Harley Quinn team-up book, writer Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti turn to a rather unexpected title to find their heroine playmates: DC Comics' Bombshells, with its Harley appearing with their Harley on the cover (In truth, the two share less panel-time than Harley spends with other Bombshells).

It's unexpected only in that she's only teamed with three DCU heroes so far–Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and Zatanna–so it seems early to turn to an out-of-continuity, digital-first series based on a line of expensive, collectible statuettes. On the other hand, Bombshells is exactly the sort of book that would interest these creators; hell, Palmiotti previously co-wrote another regular series for DC based on a line of expensive, collectible statuettes (the less-successful Ame-Comi Girls, the failures of which were do more to the inconsistent artwork, which rarely adhered to the design style of the statuettes).

The $4.99, 38-page issue has our Harley using some sort of time-travel ball she acquired from Superman (in, um, the next issue of the series) to travel into the Bombshells-iverse, where she comes into physical contact with herself there (yes< of course the two Harleys kills; you know these creators well) and creates an alternate timeline, allowing Conner and Palmiotti to do whatever they like without worrying about how their story matches up with real World War II history (a pretty silly concern, really) or the events of Bombshells. Such a set-up is perhaps unnecessary, as the plot itself builds in a degree of equivocation, as Harley's friend and Danzig thinks she simply dreamt the entire experience.

The plot is this: Harley travels "back in time" to World War II, where an unnamed Sgt. Rock and a couple of the bombshells (Amanda Waller, Batwoman and Big Barda) all assume she is their Harley and take her with them on a mission to infiltrate a German castle and kill Nazis. Along the way, Catwoman and Zatanna cross their paths and, in the climactic battle, Supergirl, Stargirl and Wonder Woman put in appearances.

A plot complication comes up when the real Bombshell Harley enters the picture. She has gone deep undercover as a Nazi doctor/interrogator (who, for some reason, wears clown make-up) and is being sent to the same castle that the other Bombshells were planning on infiltrating, to perform the same basic mission.

Oh, and Hitler shows up.

The artwork is mostly by Billy Tucci, he has an affinity for the material, with Flaviano drawing the three-pages set in Harley's regular, DCU reality. Additionally, the great Joseph Michael Linsner (who I kinda wish could have drawn all 38, or at least 35, pages) shows up to draw a completely random and unnecessary five-page dream sequence in which Harley confronts Count Jokula, a composite of The Joker, Dracula and Hitler. It allows us to see Linsner drawing Harley (mostly in her Mad Love get-up), but it really feels grafted-on as a page-filler, being a dream sequence in what is essentially already a 30-page dream sequence.

At the climax, Harley comes face to mustache with Hitler, and tells him off while slapping him around until he finally puts a gun to his head and takes his own life, as she's so annoying he would rather die than be around her any longer (Now, I hate to agree with Hitler on anything other than vegetarianism, but he was right about the fact that Harley is hella annoying. While I had the luxury of shutting the comic book, and thus wouldn't put a gun to my temple over it, I don't know how many more formulations of her "Holee Whateverlee!" declarations I could have personally taken).

All of the artwork was strong, but this is an issue that it's really too bad Conner couldn't drawn any more of than just the cover; pin-up style superheroines are pretty much exactly her jam, you know?

I'm not a fan of she and Palmiotti's take on the character, but I'll still be sorry when this bi-monthly team-up title ends, as its six issue-run (which will include a Superman team-up drawn by Neal Adamas and a Classic Lobo team-up drawn by Simon Bisley) has included/will include some interesting pairings and great, unexpected artists.

Sixpack and Dogwelder: Hard Travelin' Heroz #1 (DC) There are only three problems with this comic book:

1.) The price: It's $3.99 for just 20-pages, not even 22 pages, in strict violation of DC's "Holding the Line at $2.99" pledge from a few years back, which they seem to have re-devoted themselves to as part of the "Rebirth" initiative. I suppose it's so expensive because writer Garth Ennis is expensive and sales are so low, but making a comic 33% more expensive than the rest of the line doesn't strike me as a good way to make it more desirable, but then, what do I know? Marvel, Boom, Dynamite and IDW seem to do just fine with their $4/20-ish page books.

2.) The spelling in the title: I will accept one of those intentional misspellings, but not both. That's just crazy.

3.) John McCrea is, sadly, not drawing it.

Otherwise, it's a fairly perfect continuation of Ennis and McCrea's All-Star Section Eight, a kinda sorta spin-off of Hitman that managed to use the setting and some minor character's from that title without really revisiting the story itself...while also managing to pretty savagely parody various New 52 iterations of DCU characters because the narrator and protagonists is as unreliable as one can get.

The cover is by Steve Dillon, the artist who actually partially created Dogwelder (even if Ennis and McCrea are the ones who wrote and drew him into a comic book), so it's cool that he draws him here (even if this is Dogwelder II and not the original). The interior art is by frequent Ennis collaborator Russ Brawn. He's hardly the first artist to draw these characters or this setting, and he does a fine job of it, adhering to the designs closely enough that many of the Noonan's Sleazy Bar characters look as if McCrea did draw them, but even still, if there's one thing I want from a Section Eight comic, it is John McCrea artwork.

That is especially true given all of the guest-stars here, as part of the fun of Hitman, and part of the very premise of All-Star Section Eight, was seeing Ennis and McCrea tackle DC Comics characters. Here Power Girl, Catwoman, Starfire, The Spectre and John Constantine all appear...although the Constantine is off-panel the whole time.

Based on the title and logo, it appears that the book will eventually congeal into a road trip comic starring Sixpack and Dogwelder. Sixpack first appears reading an upside down trade paperback collection of Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams' Green Lantern/Green Arrow comics and declaring "Rashism ish bad--an' shuperheroesh are the answer...!". Additionally, Adams himself provides a variant cover that is a direct self-homage to one of those covers.

In this issue, Dogwelder II looks in on his family and is confronted by a character who seems to be Constantine ("Oh, whatcha fink yer gonna do, Son...? Weld a dog to me face?"). Meanwhile, Sixpack is struggling to keep Section Eight going. As Hacken points out (in his second appearance in the last few weeks! I have a post on New 52 Hacken's two unlikely, not-written-by-Ennis appearances so far planned, but in the meantime, Chris Sims has some info on his latest), Section Eight is down to just five members (Sixpack, Dogwelder, Guts, Bueno Excellente and Baytor) and, as Sixpack himself realizes, he's the only one who can talk (Well, Bueno says two words, and Baytor rarely strays beyond the three).

Presumably the two title characters will seek to resolve their conflicts together, but first they each have to face magical characters from the darker corners of the DCU.

I was a little surprised by at least one of the gags in this issue, given how taboo "the R-word" is...
...but now that I'm typing this, I realize that alcoholism jokes have been considered in poor taste for even longer than that, and, well, jokes about alcoholism are at the very core of Ennis' Section Eight comics.

Also, one of the stars of this book welds dead dogs to people's faces, so referring to DC's own Convergence as "Retardance" isn't really out-of-bounds, is it? I'm pretty sure this book was never mean to have bounds to go out of, you know?

Although it it is rated "T+" rather than "Mature Readers," which explains why all the swear words appear as asterisks. So I guess that's the boundary that can't be crossed here: Swear words.

Snotgirl #2 (Image Comics) Credit where credit's due, writer Bryan Lee O'Malley is doing a hell of a job drawing out suspense and making me relate to his protagonist Lottie Person: Like her, I feared her new friend died right in front of her in the club bathroom at the end of the last issue, and spent all of this issue wondering if she was really dead or what, hoping she wasn't. Me? I was hoping that was the case because the book is so early in its story that I'm not entirely sure what kind of comic it's going to be, and I'm not sure I want it to be about a dead girl. Lottie, obviously, has different reasons to worry.

O'Malley and artist Leslie Hung continue to draw us deeper into the world of Las Angeles fashion-bloggers, as Lottie withdraws from the world out of fear of what she may have witnessed and be held responsible for, while her "friends" seek to draw her out and she realizes she may have an enemy responsible for her new problems and her boy problems from the first issue.

A new character, who will almost certainly become a love interest, is introduced in the final pages. I really liked LAPD Detective John Cho ("No relation to the beloved actor"), who dropped out of fashion school to honor his dying father's wish that he go into law enforcement, and who applied himself in order to make detective, allowing him to wear nice, fashionable suits to work, rather than a uniform.

I'm still not sure what exactly to expect form this series, but at this point I've come to expect beautiful art, and much less snot than I feared when I first heard about the book.

Wonder Woman #5 (DC) Now featuring minor character and one-time Bruce Wayne bodyguard/love interest Sasha Bordeaux, created in 2000, turned into some kinda goofy cyborg in an Infinite Crisis tie-in a decade ago, and then appearing in Rucka's short-lived Checkmate revival that I never read. Man, if Rucka makes them all fight Whisper A'Daire and the goddam crime-worshipping were-people I am out.

Other than that odd call-back to his own comics from 10-20 years prior to "Rebirth," this issue was fine if slow–the accelerated schedule and the alternating chapters of two different storylines actually serve Rucka's pacing pretty well. Were this a monthly, I probably would have dropped it in favor of trade-waiting with this issue (if I didn't do so last issue).

This is one of the Liam Sharp-drawn issues, set in the present. Cheetah and Wondy are still trying to save Steve Trevor, his team and a bunch of kidnapped African girls from the same evil African deity that turned Barbara Minerva into a were-cheetah (oh man, I just realized Rucka did get to work in an animal-person already after all!). They're getting pretty close now! During one scene, Wondy confides in Barbara that she's been having trouble with her continuity lately, and there's a large panel showing a bolt of lightning shattering glass over a black field, the largest shards of glass showing scenes of Wonder Woman: I recognize an image referring to Gail Simone's pre-Flashpoint run on the character (the armored gorillas make it easy to do so), there's an image of the "Rebirth" Wonder Woman in front of a red sky, an image of the George Perez design of Ares before a Kirby dot dotted red sky and then two images I don't recognize. Well, one of these is Wonder Woman wearing her basic costume being hurled backwards by an explosion, and the other shows her in the same costume, but with a red "W" painted on her face and a bloody trident in her right hand.

I'm sure the continuity rejiggering will all be explained eventually. Heck, maybe it will even make sense!


ealgylden said...

The W-painted Wondy is also from Gail Simone's "The Circle." She uses her own blood as war paint (ew).

Bram said...

Archie #13. It's right there on the Previews site.

quietly dying said...

Whow, Bram is right, it is there, but dont click the link unless you want massive spoilers. Fair warning! (Wish someone had given me one)