Thursday, December 08, 2016

Comic Shop Comics: December 7th

DC Comics Bombshells #20 (DC Comics) At long last, Marguerite Sauvage returns to Bombshells! She draws the first third of this issue, which is set at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, wherein Mari "Vixen" McCabe takes the place of Jesse Owens in this alternate history superhero comic set on Earth-L (The L is for Lesbians, of course).

Writer Marguerite Bennett introduces two new Bombshells into her saga, Hawkgirl and the aforementioned Vixen and they are, naturally, an item (they don't hook up on-panel or say as much, but it's hinted at about as hard as it can be). I imagine Bennett chose to pair these two because they were romantic rivals for Green Lantern John Stewart on the Justice League cartoon. They seem like the sort of characters fans of that show would ship, and Bombshells has evolved into a comic book which is basically just a vehicle for shipping.

Bombshells Vixen is here queen of Zambesi, and Bennett writes her as something of a cross between Wonder Woman and Black Panther, in terms of her poise, position and the nature of her home country, which I suppose makes a certain amount of sense. The issue opens with the Sauvage-drawn story set in '36, during which Queen Mari wins a gold medal, fights a robot eagle, robs Hitler and steals his dog (I love Sauvage's art, but I wasn't crazy about the depiction of Vixen's powers in use; I don't really like when the artist or animator visualizes the animal like that. That said, I'm not sure what the best way to reveal which animal's "powers" she's calling on at any particular point might be).

Mirka Andolfo and Laura Braga draw the remaining sections of the book. These consist of Bombshells Catwoman, Batwoman and Renee Montoya journeying to Zambesi, where Montoya tells Vixen her origin story in a flashback, and the women encounter several weird, cool-looking robotic animals. The Cheetah shows up at one point to exchange rifle fire with Montoya, and in the last panels she is bitten by and begins to bond with one of the robotic animals--guess which species of African animal it is.

I never liked the fact that Greg Rucka killed off the original Question in order to make Renee Montoya The Question II (which took two great characters and turned them into one so-so character), but I do like how Bennett put some effort into retroactively making her Bombshells-version of Montoya into "The Question" (sans costume, so far) by focusing on her asking a particular question over and over again.

I may make fun of this comic a lot, but that's only because I love it. What's not to love about a comic that's basically Roy Thomas' All-Star Squadron comic, except all the characters are scantily-clad female superheroes, and they're all in love with each other...?

Josie and The Pussycats #3 (Archie Comics) Damn, writers Marguerite Bennett (her again!) and Cameron Deordio sure found their footing fast--we're only three issues in, and the writing team seems supremely confident in their very particular take on the characters in this, a heavily metatextual comic that winks, nods and nudges the franchise's past comics, cartoons and even live-action movie while telling a joke-heavy, high comedy girl band adventure story in which the characters talk about themselves as if they are characters in a comic book. Which they are.

As complicated a note as that might seem to strike, this is not a one-note comic. Here we realize that our heroine Josie may actually be kind of a bad person, or to at least treat people badly, but not on purpose, just in the way that someone who isn't as aware of the way their actions may impact those aroudn them can accidentally hurt people. The hero of this comic may actually be its villain, and its villain? Well, she can be heroic. At least a little. (Bennett and Deordio similarly play with our conception of Josie' perennial love interest Alan M., who is here not only more Alex-like that Alan-like, but also operating in a particularly shady gray area that make him, like Josie and even Alexandra, maybe not so easy to label a good guy or a bad guy.)

The story? The Pussycats are playing a beach party in Cancun, Alexandra uses her vast fortune to show up on an actual hoverboard that actually hovers, firing a t-shirt cannon and luring people to her party boat, where a DJ playing and suspicious exotic animals are hanging out. Meanwile, Alan makes his move on Josie, Josie confronts Alexandra, we hear two differing versions of the origin of Josie and Alexandra's enmity and Valerie uncovers an exotic animal smuggling ring that can only be stopped via a jet ski chase and another application of comic book science, this time Josie channeling the "physical manifestation of our unresolved anger!" through a hoverboard, which is so hot it turns the sand on the beach into glass because, as the sound effect says, comic book science.

Guys, if I were doing a top ten comics of 2016, Josie and The Pussycats would be on it.

I know I just spent a couple of paragraphs talking about the writers and the plot, and am now just going to throw in a few words about artist Audrey Mok here at the bottom, and I know this is a stereotype about comic book criticism, but what are you going to do? Mok is a great artist, every panel on every page of this issue (and the two before) look great, and she's epecially adept at drawing fashion and making the highly cartoony Josie characters look realistic while also integrating a great deal of absurdity into their realistically depicted world.

This is still a very writerly comic, and while it's possible to imagine Josie and The Pussycats with this script and different art, it's difficult to imagine it with this artist and differing scripts; I mean, I could imagine such a comic existing, but it wouldn't be the weird-ass, surprisingly sharp and funny comic that it is.

As is common with the all-new Archie comics, the 20-page lead story is followed by a reprint of a classic story. This issue's is a five-pager in which Josie, Valerie and Melody invite a jalopy-driving Archie to go hang out at the beach with them, and their frolicking is interrupted by Alan M. and his malfunctioning motorcycle. This one is drawn by Dan DeCarlo and scripted by Frank Doyle, and man, it's weird how damn curvy DeCarlo's 1971 Josie and friends are compared to Mok's 2016 versions. While DeCarlo's figures are certainly more 2D and cartoony, they show a lot more skin and are generally more overtly sexualized than the versions that we saw in bathing suits over the course of the last 20 pages.

Anyway: Archie's all-new Josie and The Pussycats. Not only is it good, it's suprisingly, shockingly good, and there honsetly aren't any other comics quite like it on the shelves today.

Motor Crush #1 (Image Comics) Three things I like to see in my comics: Babs Tarr art, Brenden Fletcher's writing and Cameron Stewart's art and/or writing. Three things I hate to see in my comics: Sci-fi drugs, invented futuristic slang and panels that attempt to replicate the screens of smart phones or tablets. So I'm a little torn on the first issue of Motor Crush, which is the Batgirl creative team of Tarr, Fletcher and Stewart reuniting to tell a story set in the near-ish future that's about a professional motorcycle racer who participates in illegal street races to get her hands on sci-fi drug "Crush." The dialogue involves futuristic slang, and there are panels that attempt to replicate the screens of smart phones or tablets.

This is a comic I really, really wanted to like--and, in fact, I did like the art, many of the character designs and the action scenes that take place on motorcycles--but was ultimately disappointed by. There's just a whole lot of stuff I've seen a whole bunch of places before here, and the very best parts weren't so strong as to make up for the tired sci-fi and action comics and movies cliches.

I'm afraid this just isn't for me.

Don't let that discourage you from at least trying the first issue, though. This team kicked so much ass on Batgirl, I think they deserve at least a $4 gamble. In fact, I'd be willing to try at least the first issue of any comic with either Tarr or Stewart attached, let alone both of 'em.

Nightwing #10 (DC) There's a neat, one-page scene in this issue in which Dick Grayson tries to go an entire night without being Nightwing, but simply living as a normal person. He tries reading a book, he tries reading a comic book, he talks on the phone with a friend and he tries watching some TV (Lost World of The Warlord; Machiste, Shakira and Mariah are all name-dropped). While watching TV, he's shown snacking on a bag of "Chez Doodles," while a bag of marshmallows, a bag of Chippies-brand chips and a package of cookies litter the living room. There's also a can of some type beverage or another--soda? Beer?.

So how does Dick eat like that and still maintain that amazing physique? I mean, have you seen his body? Sure you have, if you're read this comic, or even just looked at the cover. Look at that butt! Is that the butt of a man who eats a lot of Chez Doodles and Chippies, and drinks anything out of a can?! Or is that fact that Dick is probably only supposed to be in his very early twenties now, and does so much rooftop-running and grappling hook-swinging mean he can eat whatever he wants and still rock skin-tight spandex?

Anyway, that's just one page of writer Tim Seeley and artist Marcus To's Nightwing #10, and that page is actually pretty funny, thanks to Seeley's application of time stamps in the first and last panels of the page. While this is the tenth issue of the series, it reads an awful lot like a Nightwing #1, as Dick has moved to a new city in an attempt to start a new life for himself, one free of Bruce Wayne, Batman and the Bat-Family, but not too far away.

He is "back" in Bludhaven, the setting for the original Nightwing series, although this is this version of Nightwing's first visit there (Superman, apparent survivor of the pre-reboot DCU suggested Dick check the city out in the previous issue).

If Gotham City is a comic book version of New York City, Seeley seems to be suggesting Bludhaven as a comic book version of Atlantic City, albeit a more crime-riddled locale. I really liked the way he tackled the somewhat silly name of the city, by focusing on a marketing campaign to bring visitors there, which includes such slogans as "A Scary Name for a Great Place to Visit!" and "Get Your Blud Up!"

Dick is apparently keeping Robin, Batgirl and Batman--all of whom appear on the first page--at arm's length, and has moved to Gotham's sister city, where he's gotten a "job" as a volunteer for at-risk youth. After a failed attempt at spending a single night being a couch potato, he suits up and hits the rooftops, encountering a Gorilla City emigre he had previously fought in Gotham City, the less-than-friendly Bludhaven PD and another minor villain from Gotham City in a place he did not expect to find a villain.

Like I said, it reads like a very solid first issue--if you like the character but weren't enamored with the first "Rebirth" arcs, maybe give this issue a shot. Seeley has a nice feel for the character's inherent likability, and To's artwork is pretty great. This was by far the best-looking issue of the series to date, I thought.

Quick question! Damian implies that Bludhaven is to Gotham's south. I was under the impression that, in the pre-Flashpoint DCU, Bludhaven was to the north of Gotham. Was my impression wrong all this time? Just wondering.

Providence #11 (Avatar Press) This was the last one, right? I hope this was the last one. It certainly read like the last issue of the series, but since this is the eleventh issue instead of the twelfth issue, it seems like there should maybe be one more. As is, writer Alan Moore seems to have tied everything up with this issue, which is for the most part a series of epilogues that offer resolutions to many of the storylines of the previous ten issues, and then connecting them to the present. There is an apocalyptic-feeling cliffhanger, but then, it seems like a good place to end the comic. I guess I'll wait and see if any more issues ever show up in my pull...

In retrospect, I do wish I would have trade-waited it. If you haven't read it, though, and have any interest in either Alan Moore or H.P. Lovecraft, I'd highly recommend this weird, challenging series written by the former about the work of the latter, and how that work relates or could relate to the real world. It's really scary stuff, in the way in which Lovecraft's weird fictions were scary, and also in the way that more traditional horror genre writings and works are.

Reggie and Me #1 (Archie) The "and me" of the title refers to Vader, the dachshund that Reggie adopts from a shelter here and the comic's narrator (If you're keeping track of these things, this makes two Archie Comics series narrated by dogs, following Adam Hughes' Betty and Veronica, which Hot Dog narrates). It's a fairly inspired narrative choice on the part of writer Tom DeFalco; sure, Reggie has a very distinct voice, and while it would be interesting to see the ongoing adventures of Riverdale's population of cool teens from his particular jerk perspective, a loyal dog allows us to get inside Reggie's head without getting too far into it. Vader is privy to Reggie's inner life and knows what he's up to even when no other cool teens around, but he still has an outsider's perspective, able to intuit things about Reggie's motivations that Reggie himself may be blind to.

The 20-page story, by DeFalco and artist Sandy Jarrell, opens at a party Reggie is throwing, which is interrupted by a bigger, presumably better party at Veronica's, which sucks everyone out of attendance at his. Reggie pushes away the two people who remained--Midge and Moose--and then goes about getting revenge upon everyone who left, via prank.

Archie, learning too late that his girlfriend and his former friend had both scheduled big parties for the same night, sets out to apologize, which only makes Reggie angrier with him.

It's a pretty nice character study of the character, really, one that covers the ground of who he is, how he is and why he's that way, while establishing all of the important relationships in his life. It's not as overtly comedic in tone as Jughead, and is probably closest to Archie in terms of the humor-to-melodrama ratio.

I'm intensely curious about where DeFalco plans to go with this series, because Reggie's defining characteristic is that he's a jerk--or, as Vader himself puts it"The closest thing Riverdale has to a super-villain"--and villain books are notoriously hard to pull off.

I enjoyed it okay, and will read the next one, but man, I can't believe we needed nine variant covers for a Reggie Mantle comic

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