Saturday, December 17, 2016

Comic Shop Comics: December 14th

Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures #2 (IDW) The title characters finally meet face-to-face in this issue, as Batman and his partners Batgirl and Robin investigate the strange, triangular portals showing up in Gotham City while April and the Turtles investigate those appearing in their New York City.

In this fast-paced, relatively low-key issue, writer Matthew K. Manning has The Joker and Harley Quinn escaping Arkham and taking a meeting with The Shredder (and Rocksteady, Bebop and The Foot), the Bats and Turtles coming to blows before realizing they are on the same side, and then teaming up to take on a cross-franchise villain "team-up" between Poison Ivy and Snakeweed...which is the cliffhanger the issue ended on.

Manning seems a little more comfortable with the Turtle end of the equation, as his Joker and Harley and their interplay doesn't seem as sharp as it should be, and Robin seemed...off, somehow. There's a moment where Michelangelo refers to Robin as a "kid," but the original Batman: The Animated Series Robin was a significantly older than Mikey and his brothers who are, after all, explicitly referred to as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (and in the show these versions of the characters are plucked from, that teenage-ness is accentuated more than in previous cartoons and many comics). If the Robin is meant to be TAS second Robin Tim, who actually was a little kid, then he's drawn wearing Dick's costume (he seems to be written more like TAS's tight-lipped Dick, than the constantly quipping Tim).

I liked the meet-and-fight scene here better than the one in the previous Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles crossover, as Manning and artist Jon Sommariva build a bigger, better, clearer fight scene, one in which Raphael and Leonardo in particular are fighting in character, and adding Robin and Batgirl into the mix helped make it a lot more exciting; it was nice to see April and Batgirl fighting (this April is much more highly trained in combat than many of the other Aprils), and to Dontatello's reaction to Batgirl, given his apparent interest in human redheads. Man, I hope Casey Jones shows up soon...

Speaking of Sommariva's artwork, it's quite good, but I didn't really get a sense that he was doing as strong a job of capturing the aesthetic of either show, and managing to blend them in a way that was either a compromise of the two styles, or an intentional clash of them. To be fair, it's hard to imagine two more differently-designed and rendered action cartoons than Batman: The Animated Series and the third Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, so the fact that he is basically just using the designs from the shows and drawing everything in his own style makes a certain degree of sense.

As with the previous series, and the previous issue of this series, I'm disappointed, but then, that was pretty much inevitable given my affection for Batman and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I should note here that I am less disappointed here than I was with any previous issue of a Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic, however.

Deathstroke #9 (DC Comics) This is it! Superman vs. Deathstroke! That...shouldn't really be much of a fight, especially given the fact that Deathstroke didn't have time to prepare for the battle the way Batman might have, and thus isn't packing a kryptonite sword or a red sunlight-generating ray gun or anything. Instead, he has to improvise, with only his energy-absorbing super-suit, the arena they are fighting in (a ship with lots of lead bits) and some improvised trickery helping him stay out of Superman's grasp long enough to complete his mission...but that's about as long as he can elude Superman.

This is a pretty good hero vs. hero (well, hero vs. protagonist, I should say) showdown, as writer Christopher Priest manages to keep them both in character and have them both going pretty much all-out and the fight going the way that it objectively should while advancing the plot. In other words, there's no real "cheating" going on here, nor does Superman, who would normally be at quite a disadvantage since Deathstroke has home book advantage, feel diminished at all.

In fact, Priest even has Superman saving the day, as only Superman can, as to properly bust the criminals using the ship as a headquarters, it would need to in international waters (an easy tow for Superman) and to properly expose them, a member of the media would have had to been present to see what was going on (luckily, Superman never goes anywhere without Clark Kent).

Deathstroke remains a surprisingly strong comic centered on a complex family of world-class international assassins, intelligence officers and super-people, and Priest, Larry Hama and company continue to present complex narratives with elaborate plotting and multiple characters with multiple, clashing, often opaque motivations.

For what it's worth, nine consecutive issues is the longest I've ever read a Deathstroke comic without taking a break.

Die Kitty Die #3 (Chapter House) Fernando Ruiz, Dan Parent and J. Bone's tale of an Archie-like publisher trying to kill off their Sabrina-like witch character (who is also a real person) continues, as the action moves to a comics convention. There they introduce their Kitty replacement, her cousin Katty (also a real person), and Kitty, attending in a Scarlet Witch costume (though referred to as "Spider-Jen" for some reason) confronts her. A magical battle ensues.

Leading in to the main story is a "reprint" of a 1976 Kitty-as-superhero comic, featuring Agent K.I.T.T.Y. teaming up with superheroes American Gloria and her sidekick Dyna-Chick...and helping them come out as girlfriends, not just crime-fighting partners.

I find myself starting to wonder how long they can keep the series' premise going--and keep it engaging--as it seems to be starting to wilt a little only three issues in. The publisher is prepping to sic Kitty's many husbands from over the years on her next.

Quick nitpick: In J. Bone's "Kitty's Katwalk" fashion spread, here devoted to various horror-themed superheroes, Bone draws a Gimp Chimp, which is an adorable little monkey dressed in a skin-tight leather gimp suit. Gimp Chimp is clearly a monkey and not a chimpanzee, however, as is evident not only by his size but his long tail, so I'm afraid that name just doesn't quite work for this particular perverted, crime-fighting simian.

Gotham Academy: Second Semester #4 (DC) DC's most cancel-able series sometimes seems like it's just daring the publisher to pull the plug on it. After taking several months off before the "Rebirth" relaunch with the Second Semester subtitle, which would presumably give the creators the chance to get ahead*, the book has apparently had some sort of the behind-the-scenes/deadline glitch, as this fourth issue is apparently a prepared-just-in-case fill-in, a done-in-one by regular series writer Brenden Fletcher and guest artist, set before the beginning of the new Second Semester series. Terrible timing too, as the last issue ended with a dramatic cliffhanger in which the headmaster was about to expel one of the members of Detective Club.

In this issue, a strange Midnight Circus sets up shop right outside of the campus grounds, and while our protagonists go to check it out, Headmaster Hammer is strangely adamant that his students stay away. A strange, seemingly immortal and awfully cute boy is involved, as is a demon and a snake monster lady.

It's a perfectly good issue of Gotham Academy, of course, the problem is that a few issues into the book's second chance is a terrible place for this sort of fill-in to appear, as any momentum to the new series has been stopped pretty damn dead, and gaining and keeping momentum has been one of this book's core problems almost since it launched.


Wonder Woman #12 (DC) In the latest of the "Year One" chapters of Greg Rucka's Wonder Woman, we learn that everyone is a lesbian! Or at least bi! Except for Steve Trevor, of course. There's a scene early on in which Dr. Barbara Minerva exclaims "Suffering Sappho!" and when Lieutenant Etta Candy wants to know what's up with that goofy exclamation, Rucka gets into an explanation of "Suffering Sappho!"

This at first seems like an example of modern comics writers' tiresome attempts to find realistic explanations for the most trivial aspects of old superhero comics (Here, something dumb that Wonder Woman might exclaim, in the same way that Aquaman might exclaim "Suffering Shad!"). But it actually leads to an interesting exchange between Minerva and Candy.

After Minerva explains how and why she started using it instead of real swears, Candy responds with, "I'm quite familiar with Sappho's surviving poetry, Doctor."

Artist Nicola Scott then has them make eyes at each other, and they continue:
"Are you indeed, Lieutenant Candy?"

"Yes I am, Dr. Minerva."
They are only taken out of their sapphic flirtations by an off-panel "Ahem."

Is this a big deal? Eh, I don't know. Etta was originally written as more asexual than anything; technically heterosexual but, like the rest of her sorority, perhaps coded as lesbian. But she often expressed her disinterest in romance of any kind in favor of her one true love: candy.

Post-Crisis Etta was heterosexual, having dated and eventually married post-Crisis Steve Trevor. We haven't really seen much of post-Flashpoint Etta's sexual or romantic interests to my knowledge, but the Earth One iteration did say "Sign me up!" upon hearing of Diana's sci-fi lesbian utopia, while Legend of Wonder Woman's Etta was fairly man crazy.

Also unequivocally interested in the females romantically? Wondy herself. When Steve asks her if there was anyone "special" or "important" to her on the island, she eventually catches his meaning and answers sadly: "Kasia. Her name was Kasia."

Now that we're updated on everyone's sexual orientation, the plot of this issue involves Wonder Woman and her new American friends investigating the mall shooting attack by the terrorist Sear Group. Barbara Minerva has cracked the anagram of their name and presents it to Wonder Woman: Sear could be rearranged to spell "Ears" or "Ares."

And almost as soon as his name is spoken, the character appears in a cliffhanger ending that might have been a surprise, were his appearance before Diana not put directly on the cover.

Ares, drawn by Scott along the design parameters established by George Perez, mentions having waited aeons to meet Diana, which would put this story at odds with the post-Flashpoint origin...and the New 52 Wonder Woman's adventures not lining up with other Wonder Woman continuity is apparently an ongoing plot line in every other issue of Rucka's run, so I guess it remains to be seen where this is all going.

In the mean time, Ruckas seems to be gunning for Marguerite Bennett's Bombshells record for the most lesbian cast-members in a single DC book. He's still got a long way to go, though.



*Actually, come to think of it, the story arc before the "Rebirth" mandated cancellation of everything was the "Yearbook" story arc, during which Gotham Academy turned into an anthology series by different creators, so really DC, Fletcher and company have had a damn long time to work ahead on the book...unless DC didn't decide to relaunch it as part of "Rebirth" until very late in the game.

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