Thursday, September 15, 2016

Comic Shop Comics: September 14

All-Star Batman #2 (DC Comics) Writer Scott Snyder's collaboration with the great John Romita Jr continues to be an absolute blast, with the pair conceiving of these earliest issues as if they were a little paper action movie, complete with set-pieces and dumb/clever quips from the action hero. There's a plot, but it isn't foregrounded, and is still in the process of unfolding anyway, so the emphasis goes instead to the premise: Batman trying to transport Two-Face 500 miles with apparently every villain John Romita Jr. feels like drawing appearing to stop Batman and collect on an astronomical bounty.

Last issue we saw heavily visually re-vamped versions of Firefly, Killer Moth, Black Spider and a de-re-vamped Gentleman Ghost (the latter of whom Batman apparently dispatched between issues). Here we see Cheshire, Copperhead (not that one, a different one), Killer Croc, King Shark, Amygdala (who I was, oddly enough, just talking about) and The KGBeast, who unlike the others we've seen so far is being set up as a bigger threat; his introduction, in which three name Gotham City villains hire him, takes longer than some of the fight scenes (Still other villains get name-checked, like Orca, who would have fit in quite nicely in the group participating in the train-top fight scene).

Snyder simply machine-gunning all these characters at the reader works in large part because they amount to little more than cameos of varying length; in most cases, all that really matters is that they are colorful opponents. And that, of course, works on two levels. Longtime fans who know/care about Amygdala, KGBeast and Orca get the delight of seeing those essentially trivial characters, or at least having them acknowledged, while newer readers get to meet them for the first time.

And each of them looks great. It's hard to imagine an artist redesigning such a large chunk of Batman's rogues gallery (and the wider DCU supervillain community) and having it work as well as JRJR manages. Some characters look about as one might expect; Croc, for example, looks as he has since Flashpoint, just bigger, pointier and more threatening. Others, like King Shark, are completely different than last time we saw them, but they are generally all being redesigned in a way that looks appropriate to their starting points (for example, there are no horrible aesthetic misfires akin to the redesign of Gentleman Ghost, who appeared in his previous form here). The Beast, for example, looks less 1980s, but keeps the same basic costume motif.

I can't quite get over the King Shark design, which is so different from his three previous incarnations (Superboy, Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis and The New 52). It may be an entirely new character, I don't know; it's only vaguely shark-like, but the panels he appears in, lumbering next to Croc and Amygdala, are so effective. They look like kaiju stomping toward Batman.
Those are a whole bunch of words, but to simply repeat what I tweeted as I first read the book earlier, Scott Snyder and John Romita Jr.'s All-Star Batman has been completely bonkers, in the very best sense of that word.

How bonkers? Well, I'm very glad you asked that question!
This immediately reminded me of that time Batman shot his own ears into a foe's face, revealing that they are projectile weapons. I love the fact that Snyder found a second way in which to weaponize Batman's ears.

Because that means Batman has more than one cowl in which the ears are weaponized. When he's getting dressed for the night, Batman has to therefore decide if he wants to wear a standard cowl with normal ears, or if he's likely to be in a situation where he might need to hit someone with sharp projectiles but he won't be able to throw because his arms are pinned, or if he's more likely to be in a situation where he needs to stab someone, and therefore needs to wear the cowl with the ears that are also knives.

So as not to gush overmuch, I suppose I should point out a continuity error:
That is in line with Croc's original origin (I just read and am working on a post about Batman Arkham: Killer Croc, so Croc continuity is particularly fresh in my mind at the moment), but The New 52 Killer Croc was actually from Gotham City, originally.

(Also, Croc going after Batman for a bounty here is pretty out-of-line with what we've seen from him in the Snyder co-written Batman Eternal lately, and certainly doesn't jibe with Suicide Squad, where he is currently incarcerated in Belle Reeve when not being sent out on suicide missions.)

(Also also, Batman sure uses some potentially deadly force to remove Croc from the battle in this issue.)
I was less enthusiastic with the back-up, drawn by Declan Shalvey and featuring Duke Thomas as the star. It occurred to me while reading this particular issue that Snyder seems to have transferred chunks of Tim Drake's origin to Duke's, and, in fact, the character's are written more or less identically. The villain is Mr. Zsasz, and while Snyder does seem to have at least re-read "The Last Arkham" before proceeding (he would have almost had to, in order to remember Amygdala), both Zsasz's physical appearance and competency This isn't a complaint unique to Snyder and, of course, but it always kind of irritates me that someone meant as a one-off character like that keeps getting trotted out over and over, despite the fact that nobody has much of anything to say or do with him. In fact, I don't think he's ever had any further or deeper characterization than what co-creator Alan Grant came up with for him in "The Last Arkham."

DC Comics Bombshells #17 (DC) By spreading out the countries of origin of the dozens of American DC superheroes, writer Marguerite Bennett occasionally manages to really surprise with the reveal of a new DCU character in the Bombshells-iverse in a way that would be easy to see coming if the character were American and had their traditional American name.

Like, for example, when Batwoman Kate Kane spends a few pages talking with the little Jewish girl in a red dress named Miriam in a German ghetto the night before she and the other Bombshells plan to lead an uprising, I never expected that girl to turn out to be "Miri Marvel." Her patrons, Jewish heroines, are detailed in the above splash page. It probably wouldn't work in the DCU, as those patrons don't exactly offer the formal suite of typical Marvel Family powers like flight and super-strength and invulnerability, but they always did play kind of fast and loose with which god or "god" offered which power. It was generally just an exercise in matching mythological characters to fit the pre-existing acronym of "Shazam."

And I suppose Mary, er, Miri only demonstrates that she can fly and has magical abilities, so I suppose it works just fine. Plus, you know, anything basically goes in this extended Elseworlds/"Imaginary Story" narrative.

I really liked the sequence, as well as the surprise of it (which I may have just ruined for some of you) and the simple presence of a member of the Marvel Family, a group of characters I love and DC can't seem to find a good showcase for.

As always, Bombshells remains wonderfully drawn.

Gotham Academy: Second Semester #1 (DC) Gotham Academy is back, and with more byzantine art credits than ever! Brenden Fletcher, Karl Kerschl and Becky Cloonan all share a story credit, while only the first two get credited for the script. As for the art, Adam archer pencils, Sandra Hope inks, Chris Sotomayor and Serge Lapointe color, a "Msassyk" gets credited with "background painting" and Rob Haynes gets "breakdowns" credit. So...rather than the typical two or three artists, I guess each page passed through the hands of five different artists...?

It looks great, and I do generally like the Gotham Academy aesthetic, which can call to mind that of animation cels, but holy moley it seems pretty labor intensive, and I wonder if the book might not read just as well with a single talented cartoonist or more traditional art team.

In this issue, Fletcher and company seem to be easing us back into the world of Gotham Academy, and providing an easy entrance for new readers (so, you know, good jumping on point, guys and gals). Olive Silverlock is spending the holidays pretty much alone at the more-or-less closed down campus, with only Professor MacPherson there to occasionally keep her company.

That is, until, a new transfer student–a bad girl–shows up as her new roommate, and immediately begins being a bad influence on Olive. She entices her to break into one of campus' many weird buildings, and there they encounter the boy version of Maps, who has made some notes and maps about a new mystery that will no doubt play a big role in the story that follows.

The rest of Detective Club doesn't assemble to the very last page.

With the hiatus and the fun but time-killing "Yearbook" storyline over, it's good to resume a Gotham Academy story proper.

Lumberjanes/Gotham Academy #4 (Boom Studios) Well, writer Chynna Clugston Flores has certainly honored one aspect of the Lumberjanes side of this crossover: This story arc seems to be going on an issue or two longer than its story offers support for. We're just about at the turning point here, where the kids all figure out a potential way out of their predicament, only to have it fall apart on the last page, meaning we've got two more issues of climax to go.

Like your typical Lumberjanes arc, it's not tedious or anything, it's just notably shaggy and loose. It's not a problem because the characters are generally fun to hang out with, and Rosemary Valero-O'Connell and Maddi Gonzalez's art is fun to live in, but this is really a book that really just hangs out more than moves.

SpongeBob Comics #60 (United Plankton Pictures) I've been thinking about Chuck Dixon a lot lately. It can be hard not to, if you read many DC Comics from the '90s, and I've been reading DC's collections of Birds of Prey, Robin, their Dark Horse crossovers and some Elseworlds collections, so, thanks to DC's current slate of reprints, I'm probably reading as much Chuck Dixon as I ever have. Additionally, some of his creations and characters he is closely associated with have returned to the Bat-books in relatively big ways of late.

It can be surprising to see his name show up in the credits of a SpongeBob comic then, in part because it's so far removed from what he's best known for, and he's so far removed from the rather eclectic line-up of other SpongeBob contributors (In this issue, that includes James Kochalka, Maris Wicks, David DeGrand and Charles Brubaker...not exactly folks I would think to seat at the same table at Dixon if I were planning a wedding to which Every Comic Book Professional Ever were invited).

I just wonder why he's contributing short gag comics here instead of working on any of those characters the spent so much time on at DC, a publisher which sometimes seems like it could use more writers of Dixon's skill and experience, as while I'm sure this is a rewarding enough gig, it doesn't carry quite the same prestige as a Batman comic in certain circles (nor, I imagine, royalties).

And then the other day one of the comics sites linked to another comics site that linked to an interview about diversity in comics that Dixon gave to Breitbart, and I found myself wondering why, conservative in his politics or not, Dixon might be talking to such an odious media institution about anything. And then just now, when I went to look at that interview and see if it was worth linking to or not, I see that Dixon adapted Peter Schweizer's Clinton Cash into a graphic novel. It was previously adapted into a film which was funded by Breitbart News executive chairman and current Trump campaign CEO Steve Bannon, who, if you've read the work of or read much of anything about, you know is one of those deplorables in Hilary's first basket.

And man, Breitbart, Bannon, Trump, the alt-right and conspiracy theories about the goddam Clintons aren't really the sort of thing I want to be swirling around in the back of my head while reading funny comics about an anthropomorphic sponge.

Suicide Squad #2 (DC) Trust me, I'm as surprised as you.

Rob Williams' Suicide Squad is still divided into two smaller chunks, a 13-page story featuring the title characters that is apparently of a size pencil artist/co-publisher Jim Lee can fit into his schedule and an eight-page back-up story spotlighting the origins of one of the Squad's members.

The first half features the team from the movie attempting to break into a highly-fortified base, which includes killing many of the people within, rescuing a character who is apparently going to join the team (Harley Quinn super-fan Hack) and finding a mysterious object containing a Superman-level threat that the Squad certainly can't survive on their own (Well, unless June Moon becomes Enchantress).

On the third-to-last page, one of the Suicide Squad members appears to die, getting disintegrated from the boots up in a blast of super-powerful heat. I just sort of assumed he wasn't really dead, because A) He's one of the two members you've gotta have on your Suicide Squad book, B) They had killed him off previously and spent a lot of rigamarole bringing him back (before rebooting the universe anyway) and C) His death looked an awful lot like someone else's death this week, and that death was immediately revealed to be a fake-out (also, the two characters had an unusual connection, from one of the worst-written and better-drawn event series in DC history).

The short page-count must help focus Williams' scripting, because this is pretty much just all action and quips. There are a few particularly good Captain Boomerang moments, as he "boomerangs" something that is not at all a boomerang in an action scene and, in one panel, Harley admonishes him, "You're good at boomerangs. WE GET IT."

Jim Lee's pencil work, here inked by his frequent collaborator Scott Williams, is both one of this iteration of Suicide Squad's stronger selling points, and one of it's weaker points. Yes, this by far the best looking Suicide Squad book DC has attempted since the relaunch (and remember, this is their third try), and Lee's work is perfectly easy to read in a way so many other issues of the previous two attempts and so many DC Comics of the last five years haven't been.

That said, it could and should be better, but hell, how does an editor tell his boss, the company co-publisher and still one of the most popular artists in comics, to redraw some panels or pages? He has a weird habit of making Harley look grim and determined all the time, so that she never smiles when she's cracking a joke, nor does she ever look slightly crazy. That image of her on the cover? That's about as close to happy–psychotically or otherwise–she ever looks in the book. She doesn't look much like the Harley of Harley Quinn, nor Margot Robbie's of the Suicide Squad Film (who inspired her new hairstyle), nor even the Harley in DC Comics Bombshells, while we're at it.

She quips in Williams' script, but she does so with a humorlessness and lack of enthusiasm in her delivery that makes me think of Bruce Willis or Arnold Schwarzenegger deadpanning "lines" in movies.

And then there's this bizarre sequence:
I had to take a picture of it rather than scan it, because my scanner is not that big. It's a hallway fight with a fixed point-of-view, showing Harley and Katana killing their way through a crowd of shoulders at lightning fast pace, while Captain Boomerang's boomerang sails over their hands, taking out just the one, last guy. Lee draws it well, and it's a cool action scene that shows off the various characters' abilities while also including a bit of a dark joke in the contrast in the efficacy of their fighting styles.

But, for the life of me, I can't figure out why Lee resorted to this sort of lay-out. The five thin, horizontal, fixed-perspective panels would quite easily have fit on the same page, making for a faster, smoother, more focused read–not to mention a hell of a single page.

Instead, Lee splits the repeating perspective panels into two different pages, so the gutter between them breaks the flow, and starts everything off with a too-big panel of Harley and Katana pose-fighting, and then ends the spread with two panels the same size as the hallway fight ones, but with wildly shifting-perspectives.

It's just a weird thing, where you see a better lay-out right there, screaming at you, while the artist took another direction. Or maybe I'm just assuming it was Lee; it's possible that Williams wrote it that way, and co-publisher Lee didn't ask if he can do it better, but just drew it as written because deadline loomed. I don't know.

That's followed by "Boomerang, Agent of Oz" written by WIlliams and drawn by pencil artist Ivan Reis and inker Oclair Albert. It's amazing, and one for the Greatest Captain Boomerang Stories Ever Told, if such a book ever sees print (It won't).

In it, Amanda Waller interviews the incarcerated Captain Boomerang, trying to get him to review his Geoff Johns-written origin, but he tells his own version, which is essentially just a James Bond pastiche in which Captain Boomerang is the 007 of Australia. It's as awesome as it sounds, if not more so, and it includes a scene in which Boomerang "boomerangs" something else that's not a boomerang. I love the fact that Williams names the villain Drop Bear, but doesn't explain what the fuck a drop bear is. Um, do you guys know what drop bears are...? I only do because I talked to a girl who went to Australia at a party like five years ago.

Anyway, this is a surprisingly good book, one that's so good one wonders why it took DC like five years to get the concept to work at all (did they really just need to see the trailers for the movie to inspire them?), but it's not perfect, and, because it is so good, those particular imperfections can seem glaring.

Finally, this has nothing to do with this particular comic, but it just occurred to me. For the life of me, I couldn't understand how Katana ended up on the roster for the team that appeared in the film Suicide Squad, but as I was reading Suicide Squad Vol. 4: The Janus Directive (which is great and you should totally read; I forgot how awesome 1980s Peacemaker was), it occurred to me that she basically fills Bronze Tiger's role as the martial artist and more-or-less token "good guy" on the team.

Her inclusion on the the squad in the film probably makes the prospects of a Batman and The Outsiders film that much less likely at this point, huh?

Wonder Woman #6 (DC) Nicola Scott returns for the third chapter of Greg Rucka's version of Wonder Woman's origin, which here devotes about 20 pages to covering what Grant Morrison and Yannick Paquette handled in about a half-dozen in Wonder Woman: Earth One. Wonder Woman arrives in man's world, a fish out of water who can't understand anyone's language, and only knows the word "Steve," and she is immediately taken into custody by the Navy, and just rather patiently endures captivity. She meets Etta Candy for the first time, but this is basically just the same dull version of Etta that George Perez introduced, with a few changes (now she's black, and apparently has a higher rank than Steve). She also meets future Cheetah Barbara Minerva, who is presented here as a sort of Indiana Jones figure.

It's fine, but nothing special, and certainly a disappointment compared to the other Wonder Woman origins we've seen recently. It's kind of too bad that the dullest of the three is the one that is meant to be canonical.

And it still strikes me as weird how prominent Steve Trevor is in Wonder Woman's origin story. Rather than an inciting incident, he is essentially a co-star, and this issue he gets more panel time and more lines than Diana. I know he is (and should be) a big part of Wonder Woman's story, as Lois Lane is and should be in Superman's story, but rather than serving as a point-of-view character in Wonder Woman's story, he seems to edge her out sometimes. That may be more noticeable in this issue, which focuses on her introduction to his world, though. I suppose we'll see.

I like it enough to keep it on my pull-list indefinitely, but like Rucka's last run on the character, individual issues just strike me as decent and diverting enough to keep reading, but nothing to get excited about.


Bram said...

Heh. Drop Bears:

Carey said...

No Doom Patrol? Or is that coming in a separate post?

I'd be interested in reading your take (I really liked it myself, although it took until the second read to realised what Way was doing)

Brian said...

What strikes me as clever about the "Agent of Oz" story is that, using an unreliable narrator in Harkness, it effectively incorporates Boomerang's ARROW origin (where he is former Australian intelligence) into a discussion of his very-different comics origin!

Caleb said...


Hey, I read that comic! I wonder if I had read it BEFORE I knew what a drop bear was though, as I don't remember there being drop bears in it. Of course, there were so many insane things in that comic I probably forgot many of them.


I will get to it eventually. For reasons I can't quite explain, given that I like the Doom Patrol and thought Way's UMBRELLA ACADEMY read like a Doom Patrol pastiche, I'm just not terribly excited about Young Animal. It all feels like an attempt to re-do early '90s Vertigo, which produced a lot of comics I liked, but in a way that feels...un-exiciting? To me personally? Well, I did say I can't quite explain it. Anyway, stay tuned...


So does that mean Captain Boomerang was an adviser on ARROW, or that he's just a fan of the show...?