Saturday, December 10, 2016

On DC's New Talent Showcase #1

I wasn't sure whether or not I should review this book at any length, given that it is supposed to be a book by new-to-comics writers who are just getting their start, and it therefore might be unfair to subject their work to the same harsh and cynical eye I normally regard comics with.

On the other hand, relative rookies though they may be, they are writing comics for one of the two biggest publishers in the North American direct market, and DC is selling their work to consumers in an $8 package, so the book seems as eligible for criticism as anything else anyone else publishes. And, at the very least, I can introduce these creators to the 200 or so of you who might read this particular post, so, I ultimately decided, what the hell. (UPDATE: It turns out that my debate with myself over whether or not review the comic was moot anyway; it turns out that many of these writers have written professionally before, and done so within the comics field. They are new to DC, not new to writing or even writing comics.)

I must confess at the outset that I know next-to-nothing about what lead to this book's creation, only what I read in the one-page prose introduction by "SHOWCASE Co-Editor and VP, DC Talent Development" Bobbie Chase and the few pages of back matter. DC apparently launched a "DC Talent Development department" to "find, instruct and nurture new and current DC talent." In addition to some meetings and suchlike within the ranks of DC's extant employees and freelancers, this also included a workshop for writers lead by Scott Snyder and a workshop for artists lead by Klaus Janson (good) and Jim Lee (Um...). The stories published in this particular book are from writers who participated in a 13-week program from the beginning of this year, Chase writes, and are drawn by artists who were involved in a fall of 2015 "Artists Workshop Pilot Program." As you'll see below, the stories published are basically from new-ish writers paired with established artists. If you're like me, you'll recognize most if not all of the artists' names, and recognize few if any of the writers' names.

From my own far-removed and obviously ignorant-of-the-program position, I question the value of these programs in creating a stable of great new professional comics writers, and not just because everyone knows the best way to recruit new comic book writers to find smart-ass, know-it-all comics bloggers and critics on the Internet and offer them a bunch of money. Honestly, with the extreme democratization of comics-making in the 21st century, it seems like there's no real need to manufacture new writers, artists or cartoonists: There are literally thousands of them out there, already making comics, and if an amateur wants to get into comics, the best route seems to be to just start making the comics said amateur wants to make. (And not to be too cynical about it, but it seems like DC's strategy with this particular program seems more likely to produce writers who write like current DC writers write, or like current DC editors want writers to write, which isn't necessarily the best way to get the best new writers; like, even if DC had six people who wrote exactly like Geoff Johns and three who wrote exactly like Scott Snyder, that doesn't mean they'd sell any more comics, as at this point Johns and Snyder sell like they do because they are Johns and Snyder, not because of the way they write*).

I should also note that this book, a 72-page anthology consisting of nine eight-page stories, is really weird. If you were putting together an $8, 72-page anthology meant to highlight the work of new writers that you were going to sell to your fans and/or a general direct market readership, what sort of format would you want that book to take, and what would you like those stories to be like? Me, I would assume they should all be tightly-written, done-in-one stories light enough on continuity that they could be read by anyone, regardless of familiarity of the character and that character's likely complex history. They should be completely complete, and stand on their own; the sorts of stories you might have found in DC's recent trinity of character-specific anthology series, like Legends of The Dark Knight, The Adventures of Superman and Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman.

That's not the route they went with this.

Rather, each of these stories reads like a hyper-condensed first issue of a new series, or of a new story arc within an existing series. Most of them literally end with cliffhangers that will apparently never be resolved anywhere. I assume these were all conceived as part of the class/program, where the creators maybe worked on pitches, or story arcs, and DC decided to use the first part of them here in this book. Regardless of how helpful that might have been to the writers involved, it sure doesn't make a collection of such work an ideal comics reading experience for a reader.

In essence, this reads like one of those anthologies Marvel Comics might occasionally publish after a big crossover event and/or before a new line-wide branding event like "Dark Reign" or "The Heroic Age" or "All-New Marvel" or "Point One" or whatever. Only instead of a handful of exciting previews to books you might want to check out, these are previews for books that don't exist anywhere except in the imaginations of the creators. So no matter how much you might like them and wonder what happens next, chances are, you're never going to find out.

Although, perhaps an unstated goal of this book is to throw these pitches/short stories into the market, and see if any of them truly fire the imagination and interest of DC fans, who then clamor for a new ongoing Hawkgirl series like one suggested here, or a Superman miniseries that explores who Mister Coal is, and what The Joker has in store for Smallville (To mention the two stories that seemed the most promising to me personally).

I think the book still has something to offer the DC fan in the wide net it casts in terms of the characters it features. The book features not only the biggest DC stars like Superman, Harley Quinn, The Flash and Wonder Woman (twice!), but some fairly random characters that I don't think many (or any?) readers were clamoring for more of, like Deadman, Wonder Girl (New 52 Cassandra Sandsmark version) and White Lantern Kyle Rayner and Star Sapphire Carol Ferris.

So let's read through the book, story-by-story, shall we? As I mentioned, it begins with a page of prose from Chase welcoming readers to DC's "First-Ever New Talent Showcase Of The Modern Era!",
illustrated by a nice David Messina drawing of a nicely re-designed Deadman meditating. That's then followed by a table of contents, which includes thank yous to the above-mentioned creators, as well as artist Andy Kubert, and then the stories begin.

John Constantine in "The Road To Hell and All That" by writer Adam Smith and artist Siya Oum

This story opens with a splash page featuring John Constantine on his knees in front of a toilet in a graffiti-covered bathroom, surrounded by jeering demons holding drinks and smoking--apparently hell is the one place in America where you can still smoke inside bars.

My heart sank immediately, as there is no character I am less interested in among DC's thousands than John Constantine. I think I'd prefer Geo-Force at this point, which I put down to Constantine's over-exposure. The character starred in a 250-issue run of his own comic before DC allowed him to return to the DC Universe proper, where he could rub shoulders with Superman and Batman and company regularly once more, and since then I've lost count of how many times DC has tried launching a new solo series starring the character. I think we're currently on the third attempt, and that certainly doesn't take into account his many, many guest-appearances.

After the conclusion of all the stories, there's a two-page spread in the back of the book with a heading reading, "If You Had Just One Chance To Tell A DC Story, What Would It Be?" and beneath it are the writers' answers to that question, with sketches of the various characters by the participating artists. Smith's answer mentioned "With Steve Dillon passing away I've been thinking a lot about how much Hellblazer meant to me as that right book at that right time in my life."

When I read that, I felt like an asshole for dreading seeing Constantine on the first page of this book.

Anyway, as for the story itself, Smith has sent Constantine to a bar in hell, which is basically like a bar on earth, except the patrons all have red or green skin, horns and/or wings, tails, cloven hooves and so on. Oh, and you don't have to go out on a patio to smoke.

What's he doing in a bar in hell? He's looking for a lead on the deceased Zatara, who he hopes to bring back to life in order to comfort Zatara's daughter and his own sometimes girlfriend Zatanna. Apparently in this story, Zatara has just recently died, and John and Zatanna have just had their most recent fight ("I'm genuinely tired of explaining how to be a decent human being to you, John," she tells him), this one over whether or not they should attend his memorial service, given the Zatara family's strained relationship over the years (I feel compelled to here pause and note that not only is Constantine a Alan Moore co-creation, but Zatara famously died in an Alan Moore-written Swamp Thing annual, and here is example #5,678,023 for anyone wanting to make the case that for all DC's weird distancing of themselves from Moore and the relatively few years he put in working for the company, so much of their publishing strategy seems to be an elaborate form of Alan Moore fan-fiction; I'm not making that case here, but I think it could be made, even if not all that convincingly. Seriously though DC, I think it's time to just let go of Alan Moore and move on).

At the risk of spoiling the short story, let's just say that Constantine succeeds...or at least half-succeeds. In the process, he discovers a pair of terrible secrets that he has to keep from Zatanna for her own good, and one gets a good sense of why that guy must drink as much as he does.

In retrospect, this story may be the closest to the sort that I previously explained that I would have wanted this anthology to be full of, if I were Chase or her co-editor Sara Miller. Sure, it refers to a pair of stories from the 1980s, but not in a way that one needs to be familiar with the source material. If you're only exposure to Zatara and Zatanna was the Young Justice cartoon, this still reads fairly self-contained. While it doesn't address the whys of the truths that Constantine learned, or what the fallout from their discovery might be, it is otherwise a complete story.

Smith seems to have a pretty good handle on Constantine's character, specifically as an asshole who doesn't really know how to interact with others and who is exhausting to know or spend time with and, again, he offers something in the way of justification for that behavior, if these are the sorts of secrets he's always dragging around.

I'm not crazy about Oum's depiction of the rather cartoonish denizens of hell, but the art here is as good as on any of the various Constantine-starring ongoings and, in fact, is better than in some issues of those various series.

Wonder Woman and The Flash in "Blood and Glory" by writer Vita Ayala, artist Khary Randolph and colorist John Rauch

This may be the worst of the stories in the collection, on just about every level. Even the art, which comes courtesy of a creator whose work I've previously enjoyed in other DC books, leaves quite a bit to be desired.

The opening splash page of this story features Wonder Woman, in her movie-inspired "Rebirth" costume, with her sword drawn (not a fan of Wondy using bladed weapons, as you've probably heard me say a thousand times now) rushing into battle against a manticore, while a many-headed dragon rages behind a skyscraper in the background. A box tells us this is downtown Chicago, and a Wonder Woman narration box says simply and purlply: "My pulse beats in my ears, like a drum."

The narration continues in this manner. "Rage sears through me, setting my blood on fire," the next panel reads; now the sword has disappeared and she is using both hands to strangle the Manticore with her magic lasso, because for whatever reason the creature isn't responding to the lasso, I guess. She breaks its neck with a "CRRAAACK" and then the sword appears again as she faces the many-headed dragon, presumably a hydra. "My body sings with anticipation."

The Flash, New 52/Rebirth Barry Allen by the costume, appears and plucks her out of harm's way as more monsters--including a Chimera and a second manticore--circle her. She just pushes him away, narrates and then kills everything with her sword and/or magical red lightning she summons from the sky by holding aloft her blood-stained sword and shouting, "Mindless beasts! Feel the wrath of war!"

Cut to "Themyscira: Circe's Lair," where an old witch called Cyrene is apparently turning Amazons into those monsters that Wonder Woman was slaughtering, maybe?

Cut back to Chicago, where Flash mentions Wonder Woman having "leveled up" (I think he's referring to her having temporarily become War in the pages of the New 52 volume of her own title, a plot point which hasn't been mentioned in the "Rebirth" volume of her series; her costume here would be wrong for that, though). He also mentions "the clutch of not-quite-mythological creatures going Godzilla on Wall Street," which is in an entirely different city**, no? And then she calls him "Wally," who is, of course, an entirely different Flash with an entirely different costume from an entirely different time period, making this story the most confused in terms of "when" its meant to take place.

It ends with Wonder Woman telling Flash she's going to go investigate this on Themyscira, and the witch smiling and saying "Yes, little queen. Come." Where a next issue box might be is a box reading "So It Begins..."

My initial reaction to this story was basically just "?????"

Even ignoring the weird continuity and confusion of where Wall Street might be, there's just some strange story mechanics going on with the visuals: Wonder Woman's sword and lariat appearing and disappearing, what happens to various players in the combat scenes at various points, how to even read the spread on pages 4 and 5.

Additionally, Ayala's take on Wonder Woman is pretty terrible. She's basically working in the Wonder Woman-as-Wolverine mode here, the ultimate warrior who lives for battle and slaughters her foes mercilessly. That's...not Wonder Woman, although I guess Ayala is to be forgiven, since that is unfortunately the version of Wonder Woman that DC has been pushing for about five years now in their main line (If not longer).

Also, Flash does mention that she's been more "intense" since she "leveled-up," so it's possible that this hardcore, take-no-prisoners version of Wonder Woman, who would use a passive tool that can magically subdue a foe to instead strangle said foe, is meant to feel wrong and out of character. It's not the only time he expresses bafflement at what exactly is supposed to be going on.

But this is all readers get, so it's all I can judge here. It's no damn good.

White Lantern Kyle Rayner and Star Sapphire Carol Ferris in "Dead Beacons" by writer Michael Moreci, artist Barnaby Bagenda and colorist Romulo Fajardo Jr.

Were it not for the weird continuity and unclear storytelling of the previous story, I might have called Moreci's Green Lantern-adjacent story the worst in the book. The writing isn't bad, per se, but it just doesn't find and tell a story in the allotted space--a problem that permeates the collection, as I've stated.

It's a little more pronounced here in that the eight pages are divided neatly into two four-page parts that never come together. What might have been a fine preview had it ended with a "To be continued in White Lantern, coming in 2017" is instead just one more weird story fragment here; a chance for readers to apparently pay to check out a sample story, I guess...?

The first half is a very wordy half. Set in deep space, "at the very cusp of the outer rim of the galaxy," it features a tiny-looking space ship flying towards a gigantic space station that fills most of the splash page. A narrator narrates, and keeps narrating for another page or so. Who is narrating? One might assume the first character one sees, but it's not him...at least, it doesn't appear to be. And he dies, so it's probably not him if the narrator is going anywhere with all the narration, involving how badly he or she or it wanted to be a Lantern and how mad he or she or it is at the Lanterns for not saving the narrator's homeworld. Perhaps the second character we see? No, she dies just after the first. It is apparently the third character we see who kills those first two by seemingly Force-choking them and sucking their life force (and fluids) out of them somehow.

Who is this? Doesn't matter.

The second half of the story involves White Lantern Kyle Rayner and Star Sapphire Carol Ferris saving a planet from "a parasitic alien race known as The Hive," which look a little like large space bugs with the jaws of dogs. They use their ring powers to kill them while talking about their relationship; apparently they were having their anniversary dinner when they were summoned out to the Vega system to squash all these alien space bugs.

So I guess this is set somewhere around the Green Lantern: New Guardians series, wherein Kyle and Carol were dating? I think that's about two Green Lantern franchise status quos ago. During their bantering, it becomes apparent that Carol has something of import to tell Kyle. He thinks it might be that she's pregnant (!), but it turns out that it's actually about Kyle's dad, which is a thing you may or may not be aware of, depending on how well you know Kyle.

The end!

Hawkgirl in "Weapons of War" by writer Erica Schultz and artist Sonny Liew

This was the most surprising of the stories, as it was illustrated by Liew, who is anything but new, even to DC Comics. Not only did he work on the publisher's latest ill-fated attempt at a Doctor Fate ongoing, but drew the Mike Carey-written miniseries My Faith In Frankie for the publisher's Vertigo imprint way back in 2004. His style is so distinct and so different from everything else that DC publishes that his presence on any of their superhero books (or, here, stories) is usually enough to demand attention, even if that attention isn't ultimately rewarded (Doctor Fate, for example, turned out to never actually be as interesting as it looked).

Hawkgirl is also a somewhat surprising choice for a lead, if only because DC hasn't seemed to know what to do with her for so long. Like Green Lantern John Stewart, she got a huge boost in name recognition when the Justice League cartoon debuted on Cartoon Network back in 2001, and there is probably a pretty large sub-set of DC readers or would-be readers who think of her as one of the quintessential heroes in the DCU, and a pillar of the Justice League.

The comics themselves pretty much never reflected that. The Kendra Saunders version of the character from JSA was pretty rad, and she took over Hawkman's title in 2006, but leaving the Geoff Johns-written JSA for Hawkman's orbit certainly didn't do her any favors. I tried my best to avoid Hawkman after the post-Flashpoint reboot, so I'm not sure if a Kendra Saunders or a Hawkgirl or a Hawkwoman ever appeared in Hawkman or in the Earth-0, New 52-iverse. The only post-Flashpoint Hawkgirl I know of is the one from Earth 2, which was, of course, set on the New Earth-2, and while the series started out with some promise, it rapidly devolved into unreadability.

Which is a long way of saying Guys, I don't know what's up with Hawkgirl these days, but she seems like a character the publisher could probably exploit better than they have been doing.

And if they did want to launch a new Hawkgirl series, Schultz seems to have an okay premise embedded in her story here: Thanagarian Shayera Thal is on Earth, posing as Chicago-based police detective Shayera Hall in order to collect dangerous alien weapons and get them off the streets...while also acting as superhero Hawkgirl. It's a pretty good mixture of various takes on the Hawks, this one containing the Silver Age (and after) take of them as visiting aliens studying Earth law enforcement techniques as well as the interest in weaponry, but rather than that interest involving various ancient Earth weapons, it's focused on something related to her being from space.

Cool.

That premise is, of course, buried in an in-progress story arc that doesn't actually exist yet.

Schultz and Liew's story begins in media res with an almost-splash page; their first page has a second, horizontal panel occupying the bottom quarter of the page. The top three-quarters features a four-armed giant clutching Hawkgirl by the torso in one of it's giant hands. It has wings and wears a lot of armor; she apparently refers to it as one of "Thanagar's great old ones." She debates with him a bit over whether Earth deserves destruction or not, in the process mentioning that Nth metal affects human behavior.

We then flashback to Detective Shayera Hall and her partner Will Cariad of "The Weird Weapons Squad" who are investigating a shooting in which a victim has a gigantic hole through his torso, a perfectly cartoon-like hole, as if he were made of Play-Doh and someone punched a pencil through him. The mace Hall carries in her bag vibrates, which means there's Nth Metal around, and she narrates about intergalactic arms dealers and how she needs to keep space weapons out of the hands of Earhtlings. We follow her back to her apartment, and behind a holographic book case to an armory full of various ray guns, and then we return to the present, where the Thanagarian giant holds her by the wrist and says "Behold," as we see the populace toting the very same ray guns and apparently making war on one another.

The final panel includes a "next issue box" that reads "A Hero Takes Flight"

So here we have a currently un-used character with a ton of potential, and a very solid premise. Like the other stories here, this one just sort of hangs there, with nowhere to go, but unlike the rest of them, it's extremely easy to imagine a new Hawkgirl series, or at least miniseries, by this creative team (If the former, they might want to have someone other than Liew draw it; I'm a huge fan of his work, but I imagine a more traditional artist would work better with this traditional hero and traditional premise. Maybe someone with Hawk history, like Rags Morales, or any of the great JSA artists...?).

Liew gives Hawkgirl a new look here, too. While she's got her traditional mask and boots, and her color scheme remains yellow, red and green, it is more yellow and red here than green. She wears armor that includes a war-skirt (not unlike that of "Rebirth" Wonder Woman) and shoulder pads. She has big bracelets, and her hands and wrists are wrapped in tape beneath them. Her wings have feather, but appear to be made of metal, another element that seems to blend different past takes. She's pretty tiny on the cover, but if you have your own copy at home, it's well worth scrutinizing Janson's version of her, as it is completely different from the one Liew drew within.

Deadman in "Killing Time" by writer Christopher Sebela, artist David Messina and colorist Moreno Dinisio

Sebela's Deadman story is perhaps the closest thing to the complete, done-in-eight-pages story I would have expected to the focus of this book (followed closely by the Constantine story). It's a pretty nice introduction to the character via a day-in-the-(after)life story of ghost-turned-superhero Deadman. Via narration, Deadman tells his origin, details his powers and the vague goal he's using them to in order try and achieve, as well as how he passes the time when not engaged in superheroics.

Deadman is a pretty interesting character precisely because of those powers and their limitations. Here, for example, he stops some killers and saves not only their target but innocent bystanders...and no one but his patron kinda/sorta divinity and he even know he was there, what with him being an invisible ghost and all.

Towards the end, he retreats to a ghost bar where he can converse with other ghosts--yes, that's the second supernatural bar in this one comic book--and chats with his goddess Rama. There's a twist that, under certain circumstances, could read as just that, a twist ending, but given the elaborate design of the character that shows up in the very last panel, it seems pretty clear said character is supposed to be a noteworthy adversary of some sort that, were this to continue, Deadman would face in the next installment.

Speaking of design, while that character sports what looks like an unusual hybrid of a Mignola-verse character with a modern manga character, I really like what Messina's done with Deadman. While Kelley Jones' will probably always be my favorite Deadman (with Alex Ross' Kingdom Come Deadman a close second), Messina keeps Deadman as a bald white figure with some an unhealthy, corpse-like pinched look about his face, but a physically fit body far, far removed from the rotting corpse of Kelley Jones' comics.

The flared collar is round, rather than pointy, and Deadman has bare feet (his leggings end around his calf muscles) and his hands and wrists are wrapped, not unlike one might expect from a trapeze artist, I imagine. He offered two close but different designs that can be seen in the back matter, including one which is very much like this one, save for the bottoms of this leggings and of his shirt are somewhat shredded.

Wonder Girl in "Digging Up Demons" by writer Hena Khan, pencil artist Emanuela Lucpacchino, inker Ray McCarthy and colorist Tomeu Morey

I can think of few characters I care less about post-reboot than Wonder Girl Cassandra Sandsmark, and this is a solo story starring Wonder Girl Cassandra Sandsmark, one presumably continued from whatever on earth writer Scott Lobdell was up to with the former Young Justice characters in the pages of the first New 52 Teen Titans comic, given that the information presented seems to be something that happened before.

Wonder Girl is wearing a fairly dumb-looking costume, consisting of the off-the-shoulder red version of Donna Troy's old starfield costume with bits of overly-ornate gold armor here and there. I personally kinda hate this costume, but it's worth noting the she has rocked even worse versions of this same basic idea previously too.

She is at Petra, investigating an off-panel bombing, followed by an attack of some smokey snake-like creatures a detective tells her were likely jinn. He goes on to talk about the Seal of Solomon and tells her someone nefarious may be trying to assemble "The Pentacle of Solomon," an apocalyptic maguffin. Then she has a talk with her archeologist mother, during which she seems to recount her latest origin story and then the detective calls Wonder Girl and tells her he think he's found his suspects: Cassandra and her mom!

Some twist, huh? Where will that be dealt with? Nowhere! Ever!

There's a next issue box, with the random phrase "You Can't Bury The Past..." in it, which reminded me of the way Art Baltazar and Franco always ended their strips in each issue of Tiny Titans, with a word or phrase relating to the preceding strip and an exclamation mark, taking the place of the expected "The End!"

If there was a call for a Wonder Girl ongoing or miniseries in the near future, starring this particular version of Wonder Girl, I suppose this is a viable one.

Catwoman and Wonder Woman in "The Amazonian Job" by writer Emma Beeby, artist Minkyu Jung and colorist Trish Mulvihill

This story gets off to a pretty rocky start right on the first page, as I have no idea what is supposed to be happening. Catwoman is dropping head-first through some kind of large tube filled with rotating blades, probably breaking into somewhere or other via some sort of ventilation system. Based on the fact that she's semi-transparent, she appears to be gracefully dodging the whirling blades, and then stops suddenly at the second blade, which is in the process of being stopped by Rebirth Wonder Woman's invulnerable, super-strong (wondrously-strong?) hand.

Did Catwoman stop herself with her boots and make that particular face because she saw Wonder Woman there, and she wasn't expecting her? Or was she going to stop herself in that manner, and then jump through, and is making the face because of Wonder Woman? Or did she misjudge the jump and was about to get choppped up, and was attempting to stop herself in order to not get chopped up and is making that face at the thought of getting chopped up, and Wonder Woman saved her?

That last option would be the only reason Wonder Woman would need to do what she did, unless that was just the way Beeby wanted Jung to introduce Wonder Woman into the story, demonstrating her super-strength and revealing her to readers via her iconic wrist-wear.

DC's two most famous, non-derivative-of-a-male-character female characters then fight for a page, and then argue for two pages, all the time Wonder Woman trying to convince Catwoman that she's not there to kill her for the League of Assassins (?!...I lost track of Selina after she put her costume back on, is this something that happened in the last Catwoman arc...?) but rather to hire her to steal something from Themyscira for her (hence the name of the story).

Meanwhile, a big brawny bald guy in a white suit and a dainty tiara takes over a United States submarine. He is Zeus.

The end.

Superman in "The Man In Black" by writer Michael McMillian and artist Juan Ferreyra

This story opens with a three-page sequence set in Smallville, "Several Years Ago...The Night The Stars Fell From The Sky." An officer with the sheriff's department is outside, taking in the meteor shower, when he is approached by a bizarre UFO, which is drawn refreshingly like those you might have heard described in reports from the 1960s or '70s; a vaguely rectangular, cigar-shaped, trailer-sized glowing vehicle that just appears in the middle of the road. Out of it steps a large, thin, pale grinning humanoid in a tight-fitting black suit who speaks without speaking. He delivers three lines to the startled officer, two of which are "My name is Enrik Kol. And I have come to save this planet."

Given who appears in the following pages, it is probably worth mentioning that this alien's most striking feature is his wide, toothy grin.

Then we jump to present-day Metropolis, where Superman is battling a Joker-themed mecha, and must use his powers in an unusual way to save Lois Lane from Joker venom. Once she's regained her right mind, she tells Superman about her encounter with The Joker, and how he seemed to have changed (again), and then Superman gets a call from Batman, informing him that The Joker is apparently in Smallville.

What's he doing there? How has he changed this time, and why? What will this particular Joker vs. Superman fight be like, given that this Superman (the apparent survivor of the pre-reboot DCU) has never encountered The New 52 Joker yet? And what does that big, grinning alien from decades ago have to do with it?

I don't know, but, unlike the questions raised in many of these stories, these are ones I'd actually kind of like to get answers to, and I can't just imagine them away as easily as I could those raised by the other, more straightforward stories without endings.

This story's next issue box contains the words "The End?" followed by "Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!" In the back matter, McMillan writes that one of his original gateway comics was John Byrne's Superman #21 ( ), and that obviously inspired this particular story. "Hopefully I will one day get to continue Clark's fateful run-in with Joker, the mysterious Mister Coal and the role Deputy Conrad 'Bud' Hunt played in Clark's childhood...and the secret he's kept hidden over thirty years."

I hope so too.

In addition to the cool design of the alien and the alien's ship, Ferreyra comes up with a pretty neat Joker-themed mecha, which is at once robotic looking while also bearing a construction and paint job evocative of the character's classic purple suit, and sporting a big, off-putting face plate that makes up a great deal of the machine's torso. The Joker himself only appears twice; the first image, in Lois' flashback, looks just as he did during "Endgame," whereas the second, in Superman and Lois' imagination as Batman tells them where The Joker is, more closely resembles the classic Brian Bolland image. They could, of course, be the same character, in differing modes; the first image has a well-composed, un-smiling Joker with his hair combed back,the later one is cackling open-mouthed with his hair on his forehead.

Harley Quinn in "Good Morning, Gotham!" by writer Joelle Jones, artist Sam Lotfi and colorist Pete Pantazis

Jones' was the sole name among the list of new writers originally announced that I recognized, and that I was most surprised to see here. Jones is probably best known for Lady Killer, which she draws, although I suspect her upcoming miniseries with Markio Tamaki Supergirl: Being Super could eclipse that to become what she's best known for.

Her story here is a Harley Quinn one, in which "Rebirth" look Harley is incarcerated in Arkham Asylum along with The Penguin (who also shouldn't be there), The Riddler and some "extras": A bigger lady with short gray hair and a beauty mark, a long-haired guy who fights with his shoe, a guy with a prosthetic leg he takes off to use like a club and a big, muscley guy with a mustache.

Harley narrates about how bored she is, and the TV set up in some Arkham common room shares news of some semi-apocalyptic sounding mystery menace that it causing massive destruction in Gotham City and leading to evacuations. This spurs her to try and adapt her gown into an approximation of her "costume" (tying it around her stomach to reveal her panties, an admission that post-Suicide Squad movie's Harley's costume is basically a lady that doesn't wear any pants), putting her hair in pony tails and grabbing makeshift weapons (The Riddler has already done something similar, having fashioned his own mask and made a big question mark out of medical tape on the front of his gown, and check out The Penguin's bow tie in the image above.).

She gives a little speech to incite a riot, and, um, that's the whole story. Harley and some Arkham inmates fight their way out of the Asylum to freedom, in order to face...whatever is going on in the city. The Penguin, who has his gloves, monocle and top hat with a big, fur-lined robe over his hospital gown (and a bowtie fashioned from the same material of the gown), advises Harley that they should barricade themselves inside the Asylum, as that would be safer.

"Safe is boring," she declares. "I'd rather have an adventure!"

The end.

So this is a particularly uneventful, go nowhere story but, again, that seems to be what the editors are going for here, so it's hard to blame the writer for that. What is here seems more or less fine, but Lotfi's artwork is the real pleasure here. I hope to see a lot more from him at DC, and it will be interesting to see if Jones can transition from being "just" an artist or writer into writing and drawing her own comics for the publisher, as DC has been surprisingly open to writer/artists working on their books within the last few years.



*And I should here note that I actually do like the work of both writers enormously, and do believe they earned their name recognition and superstar status through their hard work and skills. I don't like everything either of them write, and I think both have weaknesses as well as strengths--poor Johns in particular has been poorly served by the New 52 reboot, which stripped him of his greatest strengths when it came to shared-universe super-comics script writing--but I am honestly a fan of both of those guys.

**I mean, I suppose there is also a street named Wall Street in Chicago too, but that's an unusual street name to use in this context, given how closely associated that street name is with another city.

1 comment:

Dara said...

You know, this may come off as a bit of sour grapes, since I'm a writer and I've done a short story for DC (which, GASP, actually had a beginning, middle, and end!) and would have liked the opportunity to do more, but...

I have to agree 100% with your assessment of this book: these weren't clever, condensed, self-contained stories. They were pitches. Promos. Exercises. And DC had the audacity to charge us $8 for the privilege.

None of these stories were self-contained, more than a few were just completely nonsensical; a haphazard jumble of pages thrown together with no rhyme or reason, and most had absolutely no story arc. Definitely no endings. That is not what you do in a one-shot anthology. I mean, that's writing 101, right? This is what they taught the writers in their talent workshop?

What a waste.