Monday, November 28, 2016

Batman's Dark Secret

It is not at all difficult to find books for young children starring Batman at your local library. Picture books, junior readers, starter readers, illustrated chapter books, guide books, collections of bedtime-perfect five-minute stories--you could take the youngest of Batman fans into many libraries and walk out with a pretty decent-sized stack of books of all kinds.

Often times these books are tied to a particular version of the character from a particular media adaptation. There are plenty of Lego Batman works (and likely to be a lot more soon), or books from any of the many cartoons, or the Super Friends toy line, or, most disconcertingly, from the Christopher Nolan 2008 Dark Knight film, featuring a slightly abstracted "kid-friendly" version of the late Heath Ledger's Joker.

Standalone books presenting their own, individualized version of the character and not tied into any other adaptation or line of books, tend to be the exceptions--and the more exceptional. The one that always leaps to my mind first is Ralph Cosentino's book Batman: The Story of The Dark Knight. Here's another: Batman's Dark Secret by artist Jon J. Muth (whose name gets pride of place on the cover) and writer Kelley Puckett, who gets top billing on the title page, but whose name is on neither the cover nor the spine.

Both men's names will be familiar to comics readers. Muth worked with Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman and J.M. DeMatteis for DC's Vertigo imprint during its heyday (and wrote and illustrated a 1998 Swamp Thing graphic novel of his own), and did some older, weirder work for Marvel. He's become a prolific children's book author, writing and painting his own books as well as illustrating books by other authors.

Puckett is a pretty prolific comics writer, who wrote the original Batman Adventures comic in the early 1990s (the one based on Batman: The Animated Series), as well as co-creating Green Arrow II Connor Hawke and Batgirl III Casandra Cain, both particular favorite characters of mine. Puckett went on to write much of Cain's career as Batgirl in her own book; those issues are currently being re-collected into trade paperbacks I would highly recommend.

The Batman on the cover is a very "Year One" looking one; the image could be a new painted cover for a collection of Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli's Batman: Year One. It's definitely a moodier image than one might expect from a Batman picture book, but that's in keeping with the content. The first page features a slightly less moody, but no less realistic image of a dynamic Batman in action, swinging from a rope before a purple, blue and white watercolor sky lit by a big bright moon.

"Nothing scares Batman," is the book's first line (which the pedant in mean answered with "Oh yeah? Not even The Scarecrow's fear gas? Not even the thought of one of his Robin's getting killed in battle and not coming back to life?".)

Then Puckett's prose on the page continues:
Nothing at all, not even the dark. But it's not because he's big and strong.

It's because he knows a secret. A secret he learned long ago, when he was just a little boy named Bruce Wayne...
And a turn of the page takes us to a movie theater, where a woman in pearls and a well-dressed man and young boy are in line to buy tickets. The words "Of Zorro" are visible on the marquee.

The secret is not that Batman lost his parents after seeing a The Mark of Zorro when he was a little boy, because I'm pretty sure at this point that no longer qualifies as a secret. I think everyone knows that. I was a little surprised to read a picture book prominently featuring the death of Bruce Wayne's parents though; that sequence takes up about six pages.
Muth and Puckett handle it quite tastefully and with a great deal of reserve. Bruce leaves the theater full of dreams of the unnamed Zorro ("The hero had a cape and a mask and a sword," Puckett writes. "He fought evil, and he won. Bruce wanted to be just like him."..I should pause and note here that when I read this section, it occurred to me that it seems somewhat unusual that in the dozens and dozens of revisitations to Batman's origin story and early years, no creator tried to insinuate a closer bit of Zorro hero-worship into Batman's adventures; that is, at no point did he wear a more Zorro-like costume or try to fight crime with a sword).

Bruce sees a very, very dark alley and runs through it. In the dark, he hears voices, a bang, a flash and the smell of smoke--twice--and then he comes out of the alley alone. "His parents were gone!" As in deader than door nails. No pearls floating in pools of blood can be seen, though; they die in the dark alley where the reader can't see, and they remain there.

Because of this, young Bruce becomes understandably afraid of the dark--perhaps pathologically so, although all kids are afraid of the dark. We follow him back to his house, where Alfred keeps it well-lit at all times, and we learn that Bruce likes to go for long, sad walks on the grounds. One afternoon, he falls asleep on one such walk, and awakening as the sun goes down, he runs home in a panic.
And he falls into a deep, dark hole, full of bats:
Then the darkness came alive. It screeched, it clawed, it swarmed around him. He ran and tripped and fell to the ground.

Slowly, slowly, his eyes adjusted. The darkness became...bats.

Tiny, little bats. Bruce wasn't afraid of bats.
He then encounters the whatever-it-is; the gigantic monster bat that lives in the caves around the grounds of Wayne Manor. Not only does Muth draw this bat as big as young Bruce, but it has huge, angry-looking red eyes with white pupils and a black mouth that's just a ring of needle-sharp fangs. I thought about giving this book to my four-year-old nephew, a Batman enthusiast who regularly plays "The Death of The Flying Graysons" on his swing-set in the backyard (the Robin origin episode of The Batman being his favorite), but who is nevertheless scared of things, as four-year-olds so often are (skeletons, witches, raccoons, skunks, werewolves...although he did ask him mother, his sisters and I to take him out werewolf-hunting once). I think this image might be too much for him. (Or, at the very least, he would want his mom to remove the book from his bedroom at night time.)

Bruce instinctively felt for a stick, stood up, thrust it in the direction of the monster like a Zorro-sword and shouted "NO!" The monster backed away, which is not something I thought bats could do mid-flight, and Bruce realized that, "It was scared...of him."

And that was the turning point in Bruce's life, when he realized that he felt brave, and that he knew he would grow up and, when he did, that "He would fight evil and win."

And that brings us to the very last page, in which Muth provides only his third image of Batman for the book. Here Batman, in his black and gray costume, with yellow utility belt--his costume from "Year One," from Batman: The Animated Series, from the "No Man's Land" era and the years that followed--standing with his arms crossed over his chest on the corner of a Gotham City rooftop. Behind him is a hazy, murky-looking skyline, and he's framed by a big bright moon and a swarm of bats.

The final words of the book run along the bottom: "And he would never be afraid again."

It's obviously a pretty beautiful-looking book, and a nice, fairly child-friendly condensation of a story about a little boy whose parents are shot to death, mourns them and then encounters a horrifying monster. But re-reading it for the third time, I found myself wondering what the "secret" was.

That darkness is really just bats? (Because it's not). That the monster bat that lives under Wayne Manor is afraid of Bruce Wayne, and/or little boys with sticks?

I suppose it's meant to be a less literal lesson, involving the fact that if you can decide whether or not to be afraid of something, or how you react to that fear, or suchlike, lessons I've seen repeatedly in stories growing up, even though as I struggled with anxiety as an adult I realized that's not quite true, or at least not as simple as, say, that one episode of Duck Tales made it seem.

At any rate, I think another, more literal line explaining the secret might have been more effective, especially given the title of the book and the way it opened. As is, it's evocative, but it would be nice to have something as simply stated as all the other words in the book that a young person could apply to conquering their own fears, since fear of losing one's parents and fear of the dark are universal, but encountering bats of various sizes and reality underground are not.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Comic Shop Comics: November 23rd

Citrus Vol. 2 (Seven Seas Entertainment) Okay, so I might have suddenly totally gotten into yuri manga so what it's none of your business don't judge me!

Deathstroke #7 (DC Comics) Okay, the testing-out period of DC's "Rebirth" period is officially at an end...even if they've yet to launch Super Sons and added some Justice League-related books which they will be launching with some Rebirth-branded one-shots. And that means I am not in the process of picking and choosing which books to add to my pull-list to buy each Wednesday that they show up on that shop. This is one of them. (Expect Superman and Detective Comics to start showing up in here in the near future too, probably, in addition to All-Star Batman and Wonder Woman, both of which I had added sight-unseen. Other books may vary from issue to issue, like Nightwing and Suicide Squad and Batman, depending on the artwork and/or the storyline).

So, Deathstroke: Never a big fan of the character, haven't kept up with any changes he's experienced during the last few reboots and/or rebrandings and, honestly, I've found his backstory and large cast of friends and family a little on the unwieldy side. I've nevertheless been enjoying Christopher Priest, er, Priest's new series featuring the character, which embraces all of that stuff in a way that is intriguing rather than alienating (That, I think, is the big difference between including and excising complicated continuity, it can work or not work based on the skill of the writer, not its mere existence or absence).

Priest has amped-up the book's realism, while keeping it quite clearly embedded in the DC Universe (The Clock King shows up immediately, Batman and Robin have appeared and Superman appearances bookend this issue, leading to a conflict in the next). What super-stuff there is generally gets explained in convincing scientific (or comic book-scientific) dialogue.

The narrative is complicated, which each scene getting a little title, like it was a chapter in a book. Thus far, it's been the portrait of an extremely dysfunctional family of meta-humans and super-killers, all with their own agendas and all relating to the title character in uniquely broken ways. I honestly can't tell where it's all going--beyond the fight with Superman next issue, of course--but Priest's plate-spinning is quite impressive to watch. The art varies issues to issue, but for the most part has been on point. Here it's by the pencil and inker team of Carlo Pagulayan and Jason Paz, working from breakdowns by Larry Hama.

I'm curious what long-time fans of the character might think of the book, as I don't know if my general ambivalence towards him but enjoyment of his new series means that those who really like the series must love it, or if it's because I don't know/care all that much about Deathstroke and company that I am primed to like this particular take.

Lumberjanes #32 (Boom Studios) This appears to be the conclusion to the Diane Vs. Monsters With Petrifying Gazes storyline, as the Greek goddess-turned-teenage campers, the Lumberjanes of Roanoke cabin and their new friend Ligo the gorgon flee the bird monsters, work their way through the challenges and traps of a buried temple and ultimately confront Zeus himself, who here rather hilariously appears as a cartoon swan wearing a tie--because he of course turned into a swan in order to seduce Leda (gross; did she have a swan fetish or something) and because dads wear ties (obviously).

Shannon Watters and Kat Leyh's story would seem to reach its naturally conclusion here, just after a scene in which their script allows artist Carey Pietsch to pretty much go nuts and draw a whole mess of awesome monsters from Greek mythology, but there's a little "Too Be Continued" box in the bottom of the last panel for some damn reason, so I guess this story arc, like most in this series, is going to go on a little longer than it would seem to need to.

Scooby-Doo Team-Up #20 (DC) Between my childhood experiences of watching Space Ghost cartoons and the present lie what must be dozens of episodes of Cartoon Network's Space Ghost Coast to Coast, many episodes of which I've seen more times than I'd care to admit. It can therefore be pretty hard to divorce my reading of the character from those experiences to, you know, take him seriously (a cognitive friction that pretty much powered Joe Kelly and Ariel Olivetti's completely straight 2005 miniseries featuring the character; I'm trade-waiting Future Quest, so I haven't encountered him there yet).

The Space Ghost who shows up here is the one from the original cartoons, and he does so with his original running crew of Jan, Jayce and Blip, and the two foes who spent so much time on the set of his talk show with him, Zorak and Moltar (I suppose it's a good thing that Brak didn't show up). Writer Sholly Fisch, who generally does everything he can to wring every possible joke out of each guest-star, naturally mentions the Coast To Coast experience, however.

"Once, to keep Space Ghost busy, they hypnotized him into thinking he was a talk show host!" Jayce tells Mystery, Inc at the end of the adventures. "Fortunately, he snapped out out of it after eight seasons."

Space Ghost simply crosses his arms and scowls, "I don't want to talk about it."

This crossover blew my mind a little, as it posited that Space Ghost exists in the present rather than the far-flung future, wherein I always assumed in my little kid brain his adventures were set. Zorak and Moltar have joined forces and crippled Space Ghost's ship just outside of Earth's orbit. To make sure that he can't get help from Earthlings, they send a message from their secret base on the moon to warn of an alien invader, and Shaggy and Scooby are certainly primed to fear Space Ghost upon his arrival, given that his last name is "Ghost" and he has all kinds of ghostly powers.

Once they get everything straightened out, they repair The Phantom Cruiser, outfit with Mystery Machine for space travel and journey to the moon to take down Zorak and Moltar.

Man, Space Ghost has such a rad design.

This was far from my favorite of the team-up so far, but I was really excited about it, especially if it means we'll get more Hanna-Barbera superheroes showing up in future team-ups. I've been eagerly awaiting a Blue Falcon and Dyno-Mutt team-up since this series was first announced.

She Wolf Vol. 1 (Image Comics) I love this book. I had previously read the first issue, missed the second, and decided to trade-wait it. And now the wait is over, and Image has released it in one of those very convenient, very low price-point trades where one feels almost foolish not buying it: Four issues, and a black-and-white, 24-page, weird standalone Dracula comic, for just $9.99.

She Wolf is the story of a teenage girl in the 1980s, back when devil worship and the occult (or at least alarmism about them) were, like, a real thing that real, supposedly serious grown-ups really worried about. After her boyfriend, who has turned into a werewolf and wounded her in the process is killed by police, Gabby starts having all kinds of crazy, nightmare experiences, some of which may or may not be real; she (and the reader) can have a hard time figuring it out at first.

Then she meets Nikki, a vampire, who helps her deal with being a werewolf (after she turns at the mall), and she learns the history of werewolves and summons a demon.

It's awesome.

Cartoonist Rich Tommaso's artwork transforms the the book from otherwise straightforward genre business. I hate to use the word "alternative," but I suppose that is the best and most effective descriptor of how his art will look to anyone picking this book expecting more standard comic book fare. His characters are flat, angular and expressive-to-the-point-of-epressionistic in their design and movements, rather representational. His werewolves are amazing in their design, impossibly long, lithe creatures with heads, necks and torsos of equal length; they are almost serpent-like in shape. Which I guess would make them look more like giant minks or otters or weasels or the like, rather than the traditional wolf (although their faces can be very wolf-like, particularly in Gabby's visions). Their arms and legs remain very human-like though, although these too are impossibly long.

They are also gigantic.

They are real monsters then, and no matter how many times you may have seen werewolves in movies or read about them in comics, you haven't seen ones like these (if you have, let me know where though, because I want to see those movies and read those comics).

I was just trying to think of way to describe the artwork in this series, and having some trouble. I wanted to say that it looks like a cross between Kelley Jones and Adrian Tomine, but I also feel like there's a bit of Richard Sala-ciousness in there too?

I don't know. I liked this a lot. If you like horror or monster comics at all, or werewolves in particular, buy it. It's only $9.99.

The back-up is called "King Blood," and it's about how Vlad Tempes became Dracula, met a demon and fell in love and married her and then they got a divorce. In hell. The art is pretty amazing as well, but much more cartoony, and when Dracula turns into a wolf here, it's a more traditional vision of a werewolf, like that from The Howling, but fuzzier and a little cartoonier. There are a few panels of a skeleton riding on a skeletal horse that are pretty awesome.

Finally, there are a couple of pin-ups from artists you likely know and some you likely don't, including Brandon Graham (who has done his own rather striking werewolf comic book before), Tom Neely and several others.

Snotgirl #4 (Image) The mystery deepens, as Coolgirl shows up alive and well and has no memory of anything terrible having happened in the bathroom at the end of the first issue, and police detective John Cho appears acting extremely inappropriately...but with a clue confirming that something bad did indeed happen in the bathroom after all. What is going on? I don't know, but I love Leslie Hung's artwork, and the endearingly shallow and self-absorbed main character she and writer Bryan Lee O'Malley have created.

I also love that Lottie appears to be dressed as "naught Plastic Man" on the cover. Well, sorta.

Super Powers #1 (DC) While I question the wisdom of using the exact same title and logo for an all-ages, kid-friendly series by the Tiny Titans and Superman Family Adventures team of Art Baltazar and Franco and Tom Scioli's back-up strip running in the mature readers Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye simultaneously, this was about as fun as expected...although not quite as funny as expected (sweet Alfred appearance notwithstanding). I wrote a bunch of words about it already for School Library Journal's Good Comics For Kids blog, so maybe go read more about it there, if you are so inclined.

Superfuckers Forever #4 (IDW Publishing) This issue took about two minutes to read, and the back-up added another 25 seconds or so. As excited as I am about the existence of a Superfuckers monthly comic, coming out regularly in the size and shape of a regular superhero comics, it's really hard to explain to my wallet why I need to take four dollars out of it each month for such a slight read. I may have to switch to trade on this book, although given the free-form nature of the storytelling and how little happens in each issue, it's kind of hard to know exactly where to jump off, you know?

Maybe Superfuckers For Two More Issues instead of Forever...?

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol. 4: I Kissed a Squirrel and I Liked It (Marvel Entertainment) Hey, it's the latest collection of my favorite Marvel comic book, which is also probably the best Marvel comic of the moment, but of that I'm not 100% certain because they are actually publishing a couple of very good comics at the moment.

This one contains issues #7-#11 of the second volume of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by Ryan North and Erica Henderson, but thank goodness the spine-numbering didn't get rebooted along with the issue numbering, or this would be a much harder comic book to pick up and follow, like, say, Daredevil, maybe, or anything with an "X" in the title. Oh, or Iron Man! I think there are what, like four different Iron Man books with #1's on them, all written by Brian Michael Bendis?

I kinda wish Ryan North would write Iron Man, because I do so enjoy his frequent appearances via social media account on the recap pages of each issue of USG. In fact, my main concerns regarding the outcome of Civil War II is that Tony might "die," and thus be unable to continue interacting with Doreen Green via social media (Howard The Duck is pretty amusing on social media too; he is the Marvel character closest to me in terms of being good at social media, I think).

Anyway, this collection! First, there's a done-in-one issue that I would say was in a "Choose Your Own Adventure" format, but I'm pretty sure that the Choose Your Own Adventure people have copyrighted "Choose Your Own Adventure", so it's certainly not that. You do get to make decisions though, and work your way through an adventure in which Squirrel Girl and Koi Boy team up to fight maybe the greatest Marvel villain of all (Swarm, obviously), one in which there are several different outcomes, a few in which Squirrel Girl wins and a few in which America is presided over by a single bee and/or Doreen dies from studying so hard she forgets to eat.

I was afraid this issue would be really annoying, but then, North did recently release Romeo and/or Juliet, which I borrowed from the library, brought home, set on my floor for two weeks, and then returned without reading (Too many words, North! And no Erica Henderson drawings of Squirrel Girl!). So he knows his way around these extremely complicated story formats. It felt like it took a good half hour to get through this one issue, which is a really good value for a comic book.

Next up? A three-issue arc in which Doreen Green attempts to date! It starts with a New Avengers team-up (That's the team she's on, right? New Avengers? At least, on the title of the book? I think they call themselves something different inside, like A.I.M.). I actually laughed out loud during this one (when Tippy-Toes writes a profile for Doreen), so great job there guys. Also, Brad is the best.

This arc mostly centers around The Mole Man, who is so smitten with SG that neither her ability to reason nor her punching is able to defeat him, and the ending involves the single grossest panel I've ever read in a Marvel comic. (Oh wait, I just remembered that panel in one of the dumb Ultimate books where The Blob ate the Wasp, so never mind.)

Finally, there's another done-in-one issue which is Erica Henderson-less. She is filled-in for by Jacob Chabot and Tom Fowler, and while I was surprised to see her miss an issue, I suppose it's well worth remembering she also drew an entire original graphic novel and a Jughead story arc this year so, yeah, she deserves an issue off. I think her workload might have destroyed many a lesser artist.

Actually, I think she draws a single panel of this issue, so the deployment of a fill-in artist is actually incorporated into the story. Aside from the very last panel, in which we see Doreen sleeping, the rest of the issue takes place in her dreams, so of course she looks a little different than usual, right? This is a Nightmare vs. Squirrel Girl dream, which also involves her fighting Classic Doctor Octopus, Classic Count Nefaria and Nightmare-possessed by Venom.

North completely lost me during one two-page segment of this book, which was honestly super boring to me as someone who has zero interest in computer science and/or math. It involves Doreen teaching Count Nefaria how to count in binary on one's hands.

But! That scene was worth slogging through because it allows her to flash devil horns with her hands on a splash page where lightning flashes from the sky and an army of squirrels all "chht" loud enough that the sonics of their squirrel noises peel the Venom symbiote off of Nightmare.

So: Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, the one comic I would want a subscription to if I were stuck on a desert island but for some reason could still have a subscription to a comic book.

Wonder Woman #11 (DC) Wait a minute, I though it was previously established, back during the time when Greg Rucka was last writing her monthly adventures, that Wonder Woman was a vegetarian? What's she doing with that cooked bird on her plate in this issue's feast scene?

And I like how the Amazons served Steve a hamburger and french fries. Were they doing that because he's a super-picky eater, and that's all he'll eat? Or were they trying to be nice, and serve him food from his home country's cuisine? Or were they just trolling him, and serving him a hamburger and french fries to subtly be jerks to him?

I find all three interpretations equally amusing.

In this issue, a Liam Sharp-drawn "modern" issue, Wonder Woman gets back to general confusion over and distaste for her current continuity. Join the club, sister! Also, more Veronica Cale and Sasha Bordeaux, for boringness' sake.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Marvel's February previews reviewed

Marvel has released the solicitations for the comics they plan to publish in February of next year. See?

Do you guys want to talk about them? Okay, let's!

I'm pretty sure I've mentioned this before, but it can hardly be over-stated: Mike Allred is the best. That appears to be his cover for Avengers #4.1, which I'm assuming is a weirdly-numbered series set in the Avengers past that Mark Waid is writing between issues of Avengers...?

At any rate, Mike Allred is drawing a cover for it, and it is a great cover.


• In the wake of Maria Hill’s court-martial, who will become the new head of S.H.I.E.L.D.? The answer will electrify you!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

"Electrify," huh? Is that a clue? Um, Electro? No, Lincoln Campbell! Is it Lincoln Campbell?  I'm going to guess Lincoln Campbell.

Man, I hate the Champions logo so much.

Penciled by ROB LIEFELD
Deadpool—more popular than ever before—in his first Original Graphic Novel! Deapool’s been shooting, stabbing and otherwise annoying people for a long time now. He’s made a lot of enemies. One he can’t quite place is the brutal Thumper, who keeps showing up out of the blue to pound him into jelly. What is Deadpool’s past connection to this beefy face-masher? And what’s up with Cable, Domino, and the others on the cover? Are they going to show up in the book? (Hint: They are!) Deadpool co-creator Rob Liefeld on pencils and inks teams with writers Chris Sims and Chad Bower (X-MEN ’92) to tell the tale of his greatest creation (just roll with me here) getting his heinie handed to him! Check it out—before Deadpool checks YOU out!
112 PGS./Parental Advisory …$24.99

Wow. Chris Sims. And Rob Liefeld. Together on the same comic. not something I ever expected to see.

Penciled by TODD NAUCK
When Forbush Man is murdered, could it be the beginning of a killing spree that’s no laughing matter? Deadpool sure thinks so! Things are about to get serious for Marvel’s funniest characters as the Merc with a Mouth sets about saving hilarious heroes including Squirrel Girl, Rocket Raccoon, Groot, Ant-Man, Howard the Duck and…Punisher?! If that plot ain’t nuts enough, brace yourself for Squirrelpool! As the bodies start to pile up, Wade and Howard investigate why their pals keep losing their heads — literally! Maybe Doctor Strange, Master of the Mirthful Arts, can work his magic and help put an end to this killing joke before Deadpool becomes the punchline! It’s a Marvel Universe murder mystery that’ll have you in tears — of laughter, or sorrow, or possibly both! Collecting DEADPOOL: TOO SOON? #1-4 and material from GWENPOOL HOLIDAY SPECIAL: MERRY MIX-UP.
144 PGS./Parental Advisory …$17.99
ISBN: 978-1-302-90298-8

So, are any of you guys reading this one? I'm not a big Deadpool guy, but I do like, like, all those other characters.

Mm-hm, mm-hm. Yes. Yes, I do believe this Dr. Strange/Punisher crossover looks pretty good so far.

ISSUE #11 – COVER by Elsa Charretier
ISSUE #12 – Cover by Gisele Lagace
• First up – Gwen gets hired to save a small town from a VAMPIRE!
• But all is not what it seems. What else is new?
• Then, Gwen’s gaming skills are put to the test…
• …when she’s captured by ARCADE!
32 PGS. (EACH)/Rated T+ …$3.99 (EACH)

I know villain series don't generally work for long, but I think I would be all in for an Arcade ongoing, in which every story arc he took on a different Marvel superhero.

That's Jay Fogsitt's variant cover for Jessica Jones #5...and a good argument for a cute Jessica Jones book, rather than one in Gaydos' style (See also: GURIHIRU's story from Secret Love and Brittney Williams and Natasha Allegri's Jessica Jones from She-Hulk).

• The heroes of the Marvel Universe repel wave after wave of Leviathon monsters as more and more fall to Earth…CAPTAIN MARVEL rallies her ALPHA FLIGHT against these hordes from space while CAPTAIN AMERICA and the AVENGERS hold the line around the world.
• Amidst this chaos’ a puzzle is appearing and ELSA BLOODSTONE is just the person to pick up the pieces and find the answer to what might save Earth from this apocalypse…
• …or might hasten us to a devastating end!
40 PGS./Rated T+ …$4.99

• As monsters continue their assault against Earth and its heroes, the being responsible for the attack is made perfectly clear…and a new ally emerges from the rubble that surprises everyone…
• But what does all of this have to do with a little boy from New York City…and how does he tie into the INHUMANS’ ancient history?
• The winter’s biggest event continues in the blockbuster fashion that only the HOUSE OF IDEAS can provide!!
40 PGS./Rated T+ …$4.99

Ew, Greg Land art? Oh man, I was really looking forward to this series. Hopefully that's the only issue that Land is drawing, because nothing ruins a comic book series a quickly or as badly as Greg Land art.

Also, I guess Captain Marvel and The Inhumans are heavily involved? So I have to temporarily care about those things just to read a story about Marvel superheroes fighting Kirby Monsters...?

Greg Smallwood's cover for Moon Knight, ladies and gentlemen.

Woah. Can James Stokoe do all the covers next month?

Cover by David Nakayama
• You know what raccoons are good for? Hunting!
• You know who’s good at hunting? Kraven the Hunter!
• You know who thinks those last two points are false? Rocket!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Well, Kraven already captured Rocket for the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl/Howard The Duck crossover, "Animal House," so I would assume that Kraven could take him here. On the other hand, Rocket has home book advantage, so maybe this will be a pretty close fight, after all.


Hey, I thought that Kraven gave up hunting, and started hunting hunters instead...?

Slapstick’s local mall is overrun by little cartoon minotaurs! The TAURS! They’re adorably deadly! Adeadlable! PLUS: Why are there so many cartoons becoming real, anyways?
32 PGS./Parental Advisory …$3.99

Minotaurs? Those are clearly centaurs and not minotaurs. WTF, Slapstick?

I love Imperial Walkers.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

DC's February previews reviewed

DC Comics has released their solicitations for the books they plan to publish in February of next year. Have you seen them already? If so, you're probably wondering, "Does Caleb have thoughts and/or feelings about any of these books?" And the answer is yes, yes I do. And I am willing to share those thoughts and feelings with you, below.

Written by HOPE LARSON
Art and cover by CHRIS WILDGOOSE
“Son of Penguin” part two! It’s hard enough to juggle a new boyfriend when you’re not secretly investigating him for super-villainy! But is Batgirl dating Ethan Cobblepot to get to bottom of his new tech business…or could she actually like him? Plus, Magpie strikes!
On sale FEBRUARY 22 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

So I have a confession to make: I did not like the first story arc of the Hope Larson-written Batgirl comics, like, at all. The artwork, provided by Rafael Albuquerque, was pretty solid, but as Barbara was outside of Gotham and removed from her supporting cast, it was difficult to get a sense of what he might bring to the book, long-term.

Now, that said, it's quite possible that some of dislike of that arc was me, not them–the previous Batgirl by the previous creative team was one of my favorite DC Comics, and this was a huge departure. I understood the wisdom of the departure to a degree–by temporarily relocating Barbara with a tour of Asia, it gave the Larson/Albuqureque team some space to avoid any kind of direct comparison to the preceding team, but it just wasn't very engaging.

This actually sounds a lot more interesting, although it looks like Albuquerque is taking a few issues off.

The main thing I wanted to point out here though? It's the return of Magpie! And it looks like they are using the redesign that (extremely) minor Bat-villain had in the short-lived Beware The Batman animated series. I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed that series, a large part of which, I think, was due to the fact that the producers purposely tried to restrict themselves to only using Batman villains that never (or just barely) appeared in previous Batman cartoons.

They used Magpie as essentially a Catwoman-like foil to Batman, and she had a pretty great re-design, I thought. That said, i think I've only seen three Magpie designs ever (that from her original comics appearance, the one in Beware and the one in the recent DC Super Hero Girls: Hits and Myths graphic novel).

Anyway: Hooray for Magpie!

Art by MARCIO TAKARA and others
“League of Shadows” prologue! Celebrate 950 issues of the original Batman series with this extra-sized extravaganza! Cassandra Cain has stayed out of the spotlight on Batman’s team as she slowly comes to terms with the civilized world she was kept away from all her life…but the time for her to step up is fast approaching! Will she ever learn how to fit in among the masses, or will she always be more weapon than woman? Plus: a primer on the history of the League of Assassins, and an adventure with the team’s newest recruit: Azrael, the Avenging Angel!
On sale FEBRUARY 8 • 48 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED T

Hmm, you know what help Cassandra become more woman than weapon, and fit in better? If she stopped calling herself "Orphan" and took the name "The Black Bat," and also traded in her current, dumb-ass costume for either her old Batgirl costume or her old Black Bat costume, or something in-between (I bet the Black Bat costume sans cape would look pretty cool, too, for example).

I've been mostly digging Tynion's 'TEC, which features some of my favorite characters, even though they've all been mangled by their New 52 reboots. My main issue with the series–other than Tim and Cassandra's terrible costumes and the latter's terrible codename–is that the art, event at its best, hasn't been very good.

There are so many good comic books vying for ones dollars these days, it's really hard to commit to reading an ongoing just for the writing or characters.

Written by DAN ABNETT
The Wonders battle the Sandmen army to free the new Earth 2 from a dystopian fate, but the new world Director has unleashed his terrifying secret weapon. Can Batman, Huntress and John, the weakest of the wonders, shut down the Director’s stronghold? It’s a dangerous, last-minute gamble…and the price may be too great to bear.
On sale FEBRUARY 8 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US RATED T • FINAL ISSUE

I honestly can't believe this book has lasted this long. I've been assuming it was a few issues away from cancellation ever since the original creative team left, and that was like two Batman, a different planet and a relaunch ago.

Art and cover by IVAN REIS and JOE PRADO
Batman, Black Canary, Killer Frost, the Ray, Vixen, the Atom, and…Lobo?! Spinning directly out of the events of JUSTICE LEAGUE VS. SUICIDE SQUAD, join the sensational team of writer Steve Orlando and artists Ivan Reis and Joe Prado and discover how Batman assembled the roughest, toughest Justice League of all time!
One-shot • On sale FEBRUARY 8 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

Good creative team, interesting superhero team. Looking at the former, JLoA now seems to be the A book in the Justice League family of books, but looking at the latter, Bryan Hitch and company's Justice League seems to remain the A book.

The "roughest, toughest Justice League of all time" is a pretty bold claim. Lobo and Killer Frost? Sure. And Batman and Black Canary are certainly rough and tough in their weight class, but not ranked against Justice Leaguers.

Anyway, I'm curious about this new book, and wish DC would figure out a plan for the Justice League and stick with it, because the franchise has felt pretty confused and in flux since...I can't remember when. Infinite Crisis, maybe...?

Art and cover by IVAN REIS and JOE PRADO
Meet the Extremists—self-proclaimed saviors from another Earth, they thirst for peace, prosperity and total submission to the will of their leader, Lord Havok! How can the newly assembled JLA stop this group of misguided maniacs before the Extremists unleash their own unique—not to mention dangerous!—brand of law and order on our chaotic world?
On sale FEBRUARY 22 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

The Extremists? Okay, in that case you can downgrade me from "curious" to "kinda curious."

Art and cover by SCOTT JERALDS
Quick Draw McGraw may be the high-falutin’est, fastest-shootin’est lawman on the lone prairie, but he needs help from Scooby and the gang when faced with that rustlin’ wraith, the Fastest Ghost in the West! Of course, if the ghost is too much for even this team-up to handle, they can ask for help from El Kabong.
On sale FEBRUARY 22 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED E

I am totally going to read this, but this particular pairing doesn't quite work for me. Scooby and maybe even Shaggy can interact with anthropomorphic animals without it blowing my mind (see Laff-A-Lympics), but when Fred, Velma and Daphne get involved, it just feels...wrong (see Scooby-Doo Team-Up #11, the one with Secret Squirrel).

Also, man, look at that cover. It's got Shaggy and Scooby riding on horses...while hanging out with another horse, who can walk and talk, leading to that whole Pluto/Goofy sort of uncomfortableness.

“BURNING DOWN THE HOUSE” part one! Spinning directly out of the events of JUSTICE LEAGUE VS. SUICIDE SQUAD! Hidden somewhere deep within, the world is a burning flame. Its light is blinding. Its heat is deadly. It’s a fire fueled by hatred, by rage and by vengeance. Used, abused and left for dead, the greatest foe the Suicide Squad has ever faced returns, more powerful than ever, to burn down the world Amanda Waller has given everything to protect.
On sale FEBRUARY 8 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T+

“BURNING DOWN THE HOUSE” part two! Determined to unmake all the world’s institutions of governance and control, [REDACTED] orchestrates a series of prison breakouts across the DC Universe, forcing Harley Quinn, Deadshot and the rest of the Suicide Squad into their most dangerous mission yet: keeping their former super-villain comrades in jail.
On sale FEBRUARY 22 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T+

Hey, Riley Rossmo! That guy's great! I think I like his art much more than I do previous Suicide Squad artist Jim Lee's art and, unlike Lee, I'm assuming he'll be drawing 20-pages of story per issue? At least, there's no mention of any other artists involved in these issues, so maybe their done doing what they've been doing in the weirdly-formatted early issues, in which a little more than half of each one told a chapter in a serial narrative, and the back half of the book was devoted to an origin story by a different artist.

Written by PETER J. TOMASI
Art and cover by JORGE JIMENEZ
“When I grow up” part one! The sons of Batman and Superman have graduated to their own monthly comic—but if they want to survive, they’re going to have to share it! Writer Peter J. Tomasi (BATMAN & ROBIN, SUPERMAN) teams with rising-star artist Jorge Jimenez (EARTH 2) to bring you the adventures of the World’s Smallest. This debut issue looks at the lives of Robin and Superboy and their destiny to follow in their fathers’ footsteps, while we meet a new villain whose ascension parallels the boys’ own understanding of their powers—except that he believes it’s his right to rule over every being on the planet!
On sale FEBRUARY 15 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

I really enjoyed the introduction of the Super Sons to one another in the pages of Tomasi, Patrick Gelason, Doug Mahnke and company's Superman, which may be the all-around best of the Rebirth titles so far (despite a rocky first arc), so I'm really looking forward to this book.

Damian works best with another character to play off, and Jon was a pretty perfect foil in their first pairing. I'm glad Tomasi is writing too, as he's written Damian longer than just about anyone else at this point, and has probably written Jon as much or more than anyone else too (Jurgens uses Jon in Action Comics, but he gets much less panel-time there).

Superboy, Kid Flash, Robin, Wonder Girl, Cyborg and many more join together to fight iconic super-villains like Deathstroke and Ravager! With inner demons rising, can the team save one of their own—or will they succumb to darkness? This new title collects TEEN TITANS #1/2 and #1-12 plus TEEN TITANS/OUTSIDERS SECRET FILES 2003 #1.
On sale MARCH 8 • 368 pg, FC, $29.99 US

Don't read this; it will just make you depressed about the state of the Teen Titans franchise at DC (although the first few issues of the post-"Rebirth" book have been pretty A-OK), and wonder again about the wisdom of sacrificing all these characters and their continuity in the Flashpoint/New 52 reboot.

This looks like it's going to be one of those issues that's worth buying for the Dan Hipp cover alone; specifically, the various cute DC couples in the background. Even the tattooed Jared Leto Joker looks cute!

Well, the tower looks nice, at least.

Art and cover by JON DAVIS-HUNT
A troubled woman, barred by her employer from continuing her research, walks miserably through New York City. It takes her a moment to notice that everybody else is looking up. A man has been thrown from the upper floor of the Halo skyscraper.

And that woman—Angela Spica, sick from the transhuman implants she’s buried in her own body—is the only person who can save him.

What she doesn’t know is that the act of saving that one man will tip over a vast and secret house of cards that encloses the entire world, if not the inner solar system. This is how the Wild Storm begins, and it may destroy covert power structures, secret space programs and even all of human history.

New York Times best-selling writer Warren Ellis (TRANSMETROPOLITAN, RED, THE AUTHORITY) returns to DC to curate Jim Lee’s WildStorm world, with this debut issue resetting the WildStorm universe with new iterations of Grifter, Voodoo, the Engineer, Jenny Sparks and others.

“I couldn’t be more excited to see these characters that are so near and dear to me reintroduced under the guiding hand of Warren Ellis. WildStorm represents an incredibly fun and exciting period in my career, and I can’t wait to see what Warren and Jon have in store for fans in February.”—Jim Lee, DC Comics Co-Publisher
On sale FEBRUARY 15 • 32 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED T+

Huh. You know when might have been a good time to reboot the WildStorm Universe? Oh, somewhere around fall of 2011, when DC just kind of haphazardly fused a rebooted version of various WildStorm characters into their rebooted DCU, and then watched as the clumsy additions were slowly bled out of The New 52-iverse, to the point where miniseries Midnighter and Apollo is the last vestiges of the WildStorm Universe left in the current DCU.

Sounds like this is another reboot, but just of the WildStorm Universe as its own entity, an entity which, despite its much younger age, I'm pretty sure has had even more reboots than the DC Universe at this point.

In these never-before-collected stories from the 1990s, Wonder Woman takes over as leader of the Justice League of America, whether Green Lantern Guy Gardner, Booster Gold and Blue Beetle like it or not. Acting at the behest of the United Nations, the team must respond to a human rights crisis in a remote African nation, only to find the populace under the thumbs of the super-powered Extremists. The team then must jet to Norway, where the young superhero called Ice struggles to keep the nation out of the hands of her older brother. Collects JUSTICE LEAGUE AMERICA #78-85, JUSTICE LEAGUE AMERICA ANNUAL #7 and GUY GARDNER #15.
On sale MARCH 15 • 264 pg, FC, $24.99 US

Ha, I was just wondering about this era of the Justice League after finishing Superman and The Justice League of America Vol. 2 (which contained very little Superman in it).

I'm all for DC collecting any and all pre-Morrison Justice League comics into trade that haven't yet been collected. My preferred format for these books would be Showcase Presents, but the publisher seems to have quite making those...which breaks my heart, given that they started but didn't finish collecting some series in that format (All-Star Squadron/Young All-Stars).

Finally, February will bring another crop of "Rebirth" collections.

Looking at what will be coming out, I would recommend Deathstroke Vol. 1: The Professional and Suicide Squad Vol. 1: The Black Vault Part One.

I would not recommend Batgirl Vol. 1: Beyond Burnside, Cyborg Vol. 1: The Imitation of Life, Harley Quinn Vol. 1: Die Laughing (Um, maybe they shoulda kept the old numbering for the Harley trades, given that nothing, not even the creative team, changed during the "Rebirth" re-branding?), The Hellblazer Vol. 1: The Poison Truth (great art, though!) or Titans Vol. 1: The Return of Wally West.

But hey, that's just me.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Review: El Diablo: The Haunted Horseman

I have recently been reorganizing my massive comics midden, a long overdue task forced upon me by a break-in, during which the would-be burglars dumped all of my long-boxes out in the middle of the room and rifled through the resulting pile, apparently convinced I had hidden $100 bills between random bagged-and-boarded comics (I don't think they stole any comics; I recently discovered that I seem to be missing my entire run of JSA and Justice Society of America, but I'm not sure if the box containing them was stolen in a previous break-in at a previous apartment, where I also lost all of my Robin, Batgirl and Nightwing comics, or if it was just lost in a move).

It's precisely because I have ever-so-gradually been going through every comic book I've ever bought that I know I never finished Jai Nitz, Phil Hester and Ande Parks' 2008 miniseries El Diablo. In fact, I seem to have given up on it after the second issue (Unless I did buy and read all six issues, and the thieves decided to just steal the last four issues of the series).

I became newly curious about that series and that creation upon seeing this year's Suicide Squad film, which prominently featured a version of the Nitz/Hester/Parks iteration of El Diablo in the cast, presumably because the post-Flashpoint "New 52" revival of Suicide Squad did so. I was able to track down a copy of the 2009 collection of the series, El Diablo: The Haunted Horseman, through the library, although it doesn't look like it is currently in print. That is unfortunate (as I imagine others might suddenly be interested in the character thanks to the movie as well), but also understandable (The New 52 version, and the one in the film, vary quite considerably from the one Nitz and company presented in their series).

Rereading the early chapters, I was reminded fairly instantly of two elements of the book I didn't care for.

Nitz picked up on the retconned version of the original El Diablo, a cowboy character created by Robert Kanigher and Gray Morrow, which had reimagined him as being a literally diabolical, supernatural character. In this series, that El Diablo, Lazarus Lane, appears as Rip Van Winkle-looking coma patient kept alive by his curse. At one point he shares his hospital room with the paralyzed prisoner Chato Santana, passing on his curse and making Chato the new El Diablo, "Hell's hitman." What does that entail? Well, he would transform into the guy you see on the cover, with super-strength, a degree of invulnerability and the ability to walk again. He gets a flaming whip and an enchanted pistol from cowboy times that fired brimstone bullets only capable of striking sinners (they would dissolve in the air if fired at the innocent). He also had access to the magic ghost horse that Lane used to ride.

Not a bad suite of supernatural powers, although the face resembling a skull and the flaming whip were pretty reminiscent of the actual skull face and the flaming chains of Marvel's Ghost Rider, as was the mission passed down from a cowboy era spirit of vengeance and El Diablo's specific remit: He was to kill evil men with his supernatural powers, consigning their souls to hell.

The Ghost Rider-iness was particularly strongly felt in 2008, as the Ghost Rider film was released in the previous year.
The other aspect was that grated with me at the time was that El Diablo III here was basically created to do the very same job that The Spectre and Ragman held. How many spirits of vengeance did the DCU need running around killing bad guys? Weren't theyse guys eventually going to get their capes all tangled up at some point? (Looking back, the last Spectre ongoing, the one starring the then-dead Hal Jordan, was cancelled in 2003; by this point, Crispus Allen was the host of the Specre, but, like Ragman, he didn't have his own series.)

Anyway, that was eight years ago. How does it read now?

Remarkably well. I was particularly impressed by the Hester and Parks art, which, were it published by today's DC Comics, would look particularly weird and unusual, as the publisher's range of art styles has gone through a couple rounds of contractions towards a house style and expansion away from that house style, but the contractions have always been more dramatic than the expansions.

In addition to being completely solid on the fundamentals of storytelling–sadly, no longer even a given for books from the two major direct market publishers–Hester and Parks offered thick, chunky figures on a relatively flat plane, in a highly individual style that couldn't really be mistaken for anyone else's. At least I have never seen a piece of Hester's art and thought it was anyone else's, nor have I ever seen anyone else's art and wondered if it might be Hester's (Nor have I ever heard anyone else mistake his work for anyone else's, or anyone else's work for his).

The design of the title character is, in passing, familiar to that of the version in The New 52 and the Suicide Squad film, mainly from the neck up, but not so much in context. Chato is a bald, built, Mexican man living in L.A., and when becoming El Diablo his skin turns ghost white and the markings of a skull appear, while he's clothed in garb that's vaguely cowboy-like (poncho, gloves, boots). The current conception of Chato is a more wiry figure, heavily tattooed (In the film, he's like ten times more heavily tattooed than the rather heavily tattooed Joker and Harley), and he has pyro-kinetic powers, given to him by a vague-ish source.

Chato is a fairly smart and fairly ruthless gangster with a heart if not gold, then at least at least of some valuable metal–he's not a 100% total bastard, but he is a real bastard. This being the DCU, his criminal empire involves more than just the usual, real-life criminal activities and, at the book's opening, he's in the midst of purchasing some high-tech laser guns from the HIVE. When the deal goes bad and the police try to bust it up, Chato's betrayed by his lieutenant and ends up getting shot and paralyzed.

He refuses to give up any information at all to the law, no matter what they do to him or offer him–including an experimental procedure to fix his legs–but his old gang comes for him anyway, and he's only saved by taking on El Diablo's curse.

Once empowered, he goes through a bit of training with Lane in which he learns more about his powers and their limitations, while going after various targets of vengeance assigned to him, and the one he wants, the guy who betrayed him.

Meanwhile, he gets mixed up in a DCU superhero-like plot involving an alliance of several villain agencies that mainly serve as Easter Eggs for long-time fans, gets his first villain in a sword-handed guy named Vorpal and discovers the origins of the curse, which goes back to prehistoric mythology and leads to a climax for the fate of the world (Spoiler: El Diablo saves the world).
Of particular interest is his encounter with "Brave New World"-Era Freedom Fighters, a battle which climaxes in Mexican-American drug dealer Chato Santana literally duking it out with the Spirit of America, arguing over who has more blood on their hands and who better represents the American dream. It's the kind of scene that could only occur in a superhero comic, as no matter how fraught with symbolism or commentary the scene might be, it's also perfectly natural, because Uncle Sam rubs shoulders with the other characters of the DCU. (I was actually pretty surprised by the presence of Invunche, those particularly disturbing monsters from Alan Moore's Swamp Thing, if only because such direct references to events from Swamp Thing would have been a little unusual then; Hester and Parks' versions manage to be creepy without being as completely terrifying as the more detailed version drawn by Rick Veitch).

While I had no interest in the character in 2008, and apparently not many other comics readers did either, based on El Diablo's vertual disappearance until 2011's Suicide Squad, now I can't help but wish this was the version that was still running around. As derivative as many elements of the character are, he's visually much more compelling (and easier to draw; New 52 El Diablo suffers from wandering, ever-changing tattoos) and has a much more interesting back story and status quo than "former gangsters who shoots fire out of his hands."

Also, I really like scary horses in my comic books.

I wonder if this version could have worked in the Suicide Squad, movie or comic book, though, given what we're told of the curse. Like, I'm not sure how Amanda Waller would keep this guy from killing his teammates and everyone else in Belle Reve, like, immediately.

I know Nitz has been given the opportunity to revisit his creation in DC's post-movie Suicide Squad's Most Wanted series. I read a few chapters of the El Diablo story, and I'm afraid they didn't do much of anything for me, mostly because of how poor the art was. I'm interested in re-reading them now though, having just completed this series.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Comic Shop Comics: November 16th

Archie #14 (Archie Comics) I've been able to justify shelling out $4 a pop for all of Archie Comics' new line of comics because each 20-page issue is generally followed by a classic reprint of some kind that adds to the page count, and often these are introduced by a prose piece by the writer, adding one more page of content. Not so this issue!

After Mark Waid and Joe Eisma's 20-page story comes...six pages of Jughead #10, which has already been released and which I have therefore already read. It's a really good comic and all, but I'm not entirely sure of the wisdom of reprinting so much of it (about a third of it) in the back of Archie as a sort of super-sized ad. I mean, even if it is effective and gets those who are reading Archie but not reading Jughead to start reading Jughead (Do such readers exist? The fools! Jughead is far superior to Archie!), it doesn't exactly add any value to the book.

Here's hoping it was a one-off thing, and next issue (and all future issues) will include reprints of classic Archie comics that are somehow relevant to the story that preceded them. Otherwise, I'll likely switch to reading Archie's line in trade and I'd really rather not. I like the comic book format, although it's getting increasingly difficult to find comics I feel comfortable reading in this format.

As for this issue, it is divided between Veronica and Cheryl's battle for social supremacy at their all-girls boarding school in Switzerland and the action back in Riverdale, wherein Archie has become Jughead-like and to save him, Jughead must become Archie-like.

Die Kitty Die! #2 (Chapter House Comics) And hey, speaking of Archie Comics...!

Archie Comics creators Dan Parent and Fernando Ruiz continue their story about an Archie Comics-like publishing company that wants to goose the sales on their Sabrina The Teenage Witch-like character's books by killing her off...and since she's a real person, that means murdering her. Here the Sabrina-like character battles the Casper-like ghost character and analogue's to Casper's supporting cast, ultimately winning the day by calling in a favor from the Lil' Hot Stuff-like character.

This book's weird as hell, despite it's super-simple premise. A lot of the jokes don't quite land for me, but I like these sorts of analogue comics, and while I've read what feels like a couple million high-concept comics using analogues to the most famous superhero characters, I don't recall ever reading one devoted to Archie and Harvey Comics characters like this. It certainly helps that the creators are ones whose work is so closely associated with one of those publishers, and while the subversive qualities are mainly relegated to a PG-13 level of naughtiness, the sexual stuff all works.

I'm not crazy about Chapter House's lay-out–I wish, for example, they relegated their many house ads to the back of the book like Archie does, which I think would help J. Bone's fashion spreads pop a bit more, so that they could serve either as centerfolds or back matter; right now they just kind of get lost among the comics content and the ads for other Chapter House books.

Suicide Squad #6 (DC) The Black Vault prison which had encased the giant General Zod has started driving everyone at Belle Reeve insane with murderous rage, which makes Harley Quinn...sane? "They've all gone insane, and it's had the opposite effect on me," as she tells it. I'm not entirely sure that's how mental illness works, but then, superhero comics have never been the best place for realistic depictions of mental illness, have they? I mean, Batman's devotes much of his life to fighting a bunch of domestic terrorists that are kept in something between a zoo and a Victorian insane asylum, after all.

I'm not entirely sure I'm ever going to quite get used to the weird pacing of this book, which is still divided into a 12-page main story penciled by Jim Lee and a 10-page back-up story featuring a guest artist and spotlighting the origin of a particular member of the Squad. This month the artist is Carlos D'Anda and the character is Killer Croc, given yet another origin story that differs slightly from his last origin story from the New 52 (His previous post-Flashpoint origin story had him born and growing up in Gotham City; here he's born and grows up in Florida, as he always had pre-Flashpoint).

I wonder how long they're going to be able to keep this format up, given that they're just about out of characters to tell the origin stories of, but then, the upcoming Justice League Vs. Suicide Squad crossover event, which is advertised in this issue, looks like it will swallow up Suicide Squad #8-#10, the content of which will presumably be by a completely different creative team and thus, one assumes, feature a different format.

In this issue, everyone in Belle Reve goes crazy and tries to kill everyone else. Of interest? El Diablo is apparently still around, as we see him in the mess hall with Deadshot and Harley (his tattoos look weird, like Lee and the other artists weren't sure what tattoos to give him, but then, there are four different inkers involved here, and consistent character designs haven't exactly been a strong suit of the publisher since the New 52 reboot, especially on this franchise). And Captain Boomerang appears, looking like a zombie and exploding into confetti; he's in the ad for the Justice League crossover, so one assumes he gets better eventually.

The back-up tells of an incident from Waylon Jones' childhood, in which he encounters a Lake Placid-sized salt water crocodile hanging out in the swamps of Florida, having apparently nibbled a kid to death and left him leaned up against a tree, awaiting Waylon and a friend of his to come find and fight him.

Super Powers Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye #2 (DC Comics) The new Doom Patrol is a pretty interesting, very well-drawn Grant Morrison tribute comic attempting to serve as a grand fusion of all Doom Patrol comics. Shade, The Changing Girl is just this side of unintelligible, and, if you ask me, extremely uninteresting. Mother Panic is a Batman comic with swear words, the most compelling aspect being how the design of the vigilante character's superhero costume clashes so violently with artist Tommy Lee Edwards' realistic art style. And then there's Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye, which is by far the best of the new Vertigo DC's Young Animal books, in large part because of its three-page back-up feature, Super Powers by Tom Scioli.

Out of curiosity, I counted panels, and there are 48 panels in Scioli's back-up which, remember, is just three pages long. The title feature, meanwhile, has 95 panels, but they are stretched out over 22 pages. Can you imagine what Scioli could do in 22 pages? Could you imagine him on a new volume of Wednesday Comics, filling those giant newspaper pages with his postage stamp-sized panels? The mind reels.

I honestly would not have expected Scioli to find the DC Universe such a fertile setting, particularly given what a reader might assume would be covered in a strip taking its name and logo from the 1980s cartoon and toy line (which was, essentially, just the Justice League vs. Darkseid). And yet in the first third of this installment, "Wonder Twins Part Two," he shows a Morrisonian ability to view all of DC's publishing history as a single universe, and to draw obviously if unlikely connections, like teaming Flipper Dipper from Jack Kirby's Newsboy Legion with the Sea-Devils, wherein they discover a temple of Darkseid's...and Captain Marvel Jr., Shazam and the original Mister Miracle also all make that one single page.

I nodded furiously at the appearance of Thaddeus "Mister Miracle" Brown, who is the bearded fellow who gave Scott Free the moniker and costume after he escaped Apokolips scott-free and came to Earth (and shown here, during World War II, as Thaddeus Braun). After first encountering him in the collection of Kirby's Mister Miracle comics, I often imagined him adventuring in the post-WWII, Cold War era of DC history, during which the DCU was temporarily superhero-less (a time when, as per Darwyn Cooke's The New Frontier, teams of adventurers like The Sea Devils from a few panels previous filled the gap left by the retired Golden Age heroes), or perhaps even being one of the masters that a young Bruce Wayne sought out to help train him during his time wandering the world.

Aside from the sheer variety of characters squeezed into this page, what most impressed me was the middle section, above, in which we see Captain Marvel Jr., identified only as "Junior." Remember, DC has forbidden the use of the name "Captain Marvel," apparently, renaming Captain Marvel "Shazam," and thus making it really fucking hard to use the rest of the Marvel Family, consisting as it does of characters named Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr, the latter of whom transforms by saying the magic words "Captain Marvel!" (Mary Shazam and Shazam Jr. just don't quite sound right, do they?).

I kind of love how Scioli has Captain Marvel Jr. simply say "Captain Marvel" and then have a big, black mark over the offending word, preemptively censoring or redacting it. It's both true to the concept and sensitive to whatever the current editorial thinking on the matter is, while also reading and feeling subversive in its execution. I'm glad he did it, and I'm glad DC let him do it.

As for the preceding 23 pages? Cave rebels against the evil corporation, steals his mole machine and teams up with Wild Dog. They kill so many people, and man, you don't really think about how well-suited drill machines are to car chases until you see one in action. Props to co-writers Gerard Way and Jon Rivera for turning out the one Young Animal book that feels most like a first generation Vertigo book, rather than a tribute to those books, which, with a swear word or two less, could fit rather neatly into the DCU just fine. Michael Avon Oeming's artwork makes it sing, although there's at least one passage where I have no idea what was supposed to have happened. Nick Filardi does some pretty great stuff with the coloring, too, particularly in the attempted abduction scene.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Meanwhile, at Good Comics For Kids...

I have a review of the recently-released trade collection of Abigail and The Snowman. It is written and drawn by Roger Langridge, which is, of course, another way of saying "It is a very good comic book." The above panels are perhaps my favorite passage of the book, in which the snowman explains the difference between yeti and bigfoot to Abigail, and draws two completely identical pictures to help illustrate the differences between the two.

If you haven't read it yet, either as it was serially published or in its present collected form, you probably should. If you'd like to read a few hundred words of me saying so, you can do so at the GC4K blog.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Review: Deadshot: Bulletproof

In 2005 DC published a five-issue Deadshot solo mini-series. This was well after the character's hey-day as a regular member of the 1987-1992 Suicide Squad cast, and just as writer Gail Simone was beginning to use him as a member of her Secret Six, a Suicide Squad-inspired villain team that began in the pages of a Villains United miniseries and eventually lead to an ongoing monthly.

Perhaps because of the higher-profile nature of the Villains United/Secret Six comics, which began as a lead-in to DC's big Infinite Crisis crossover event series, that Deadshot miniseries tends to get overlooked. Which is a damn shame, as it is pretty excellent, and writer Christos Gage found a way to use a character that was always best-suited as either a villain or a member of an ensemble of such characters as a solo protagonist.

Deadshot: Bulletproof includes that entire miniseries, a story entitled "Urban Renewal" in the table of contents, as well as a one-issue story tied to those events that Gage penned at the time for the still extant Batman: Legends of The Dark Knight.

In retrsopect--that is, read in 2016--there's an aura of the unfortunate about the book. Not only did it offer a viable take on the character as anti-hero and solo protagonist that didn't quite catch on (although it certainly influenced the portrayal of the character in this year's live-action film), and not only did it present a nice, clean "more realistic" redesign of his costume that is pretty much infinitely better than the one he was given in the publisher's 2011 "New 52" initiative (and still wears today), but this was apparently Gage's first comics work. After working for DC's long-suffering WildStorm imprint, on one of its many re-focusings, Gage went on to do a bunch of pretty good stuff for Marvel and other publishers, but nothing else for DC.
For the miniseries that fills most of the trade, he was paired with the art team of pencil artist Steve Cummings and inker Jimmy Palmiotti, and, while serviceable, clear and easy to read, the art is the weakest part of the package. Mike Zeck penciled and Jerry Ordway inked all of the cover though, which surely didn't help Cummings and Palmiotti look good; it's hard to turn the page from one of those great covers to find work that lacks the heft and tension of those images.

Gage opens with Deadshot Floyd Lawton in a familiar situation, working with a group of supervillains--Killer Frost, a new version of minor Gotham villain Firebug and new character The Closer--only this time as a mercenary, rather than as part of a government task force. During the opening action scene and its aftermath, we learn some relevant information about Deadshot regarding his late child, and establish a few character dynamics that will payoff later in the series.

When Lawton finds out he actually has a young daughter, conceived with a prostitute without his knowledge, he attempts to play the role of a father in some fashion. The mother refuses his duffel bag full of blood money, and so he instead tries to clean up the poor, crime-ridden neighborhood that his daughter and her mother live in. He is essentially forced into the role of a hero, or at least anti-hero, a Punisher-like criminal-killing vigilante doing bad things for a basically good reason.

That neighborhood is located in Star City rather than Deadshot's original stomping grounds of Gotham, which accomplishes two important things. First, it means Gage doesn't have to worry about introducing Batman into the narrative, which can be problematic, given that character's track record with taking down villains and his unbending, uncompromising moral stances and the fact that Deadshot is supposed to be a cold-blooded killer that never misses. When Batman encounters Deadshot, one of them has to lose, which usually means Deadshot, which kinda makes a Deadshot comic book difficult to continue too long after Batman enters the picture.

The other thing is that it allows for an easy introduction of a different Batman-lite like character, Green Arrow Oliver Queen, who has the additional benefit of being a preternaturally gifted super-marksman not unlike Deadshot. They have a pretty spectacular battle, which basically involves blocking one another's shots with shots of their own, so that Deadshot shoots Green Arrow's arrows out of the air just as fast as he can fire them, and so on. This is just one of several mini-boss fights though; the big showdown is the one alluded to on the cover of the collection, in which Deadshot must take on a whole host of supervillains he's worked with in the past who all want him dead.

The story ends as it must, but certainly serves as a rejuvenation of the character, one that offers a particularly appealing take on him that obviously attracted and influenced the movie makers, if not most of those working on the characters since 2011's New 52 revamp.

There's also that pretty great costume, which is basically a 21st century update of his rather '80s look. Sure, it's still busy, and does still look a little goofy when Floyd "hides" it under a trench coat, but compared to all other possible Deadshot costumes? Not bad; not bad at all. Note too that here the mask is more of a helmet than the silvery fabric ski mask that it was usually drawn as previously.
As for the Legends of The Dark Knight story, for that Gage is joined by artist Phil Winslade, and he puts Deadshot back in his classic costume and back in Gotham City, where he does face Batman this time. Deadshot's been hired to kill a criminal before that criminal can testify, and Batman wants to prevent the assassination so that the testimony can go forward. The two fight a little and circle one another, but Batman is unable to go full-force at Deadshot, and Deadshot either won't or can't kill Batman, who here Gage has repeat something from an older encounter in which Batman explains Deadshot unconsciously pulls his shot around Batman because, deep down, he doesn't really want to kill him.

It's a nice exploration of the two characters' peculiar characterizations, and how they relate to one another. It's a done-in-one, and a rare one that does a pretty exemplary job of defining both of them equally well. I know I just said previously Batman and Deadshot don't always work well together, as the fact that one must lose puts and end to their conflicts pretty quickly, but they do work in small doses like this; if you read it, you'll see their stand-off works, but it's not the sort of standoff that would work indefinitely.

The story is definitely one for any sort of greatest hits collection of Deadshot stories, though (and, for fans of the Suicide Squad movie, likely one that served as inspiration, given the nature of Deadshot's assignment here and in the opening scenes of the film).

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Comic Shop Comics: November 9th

All-Star Batman #4 (DC Comics) So exactly how dark is the day after America elected its 45th president–and first president with no experience at all in either government or the military–which may or may not end up being known forever more as Black Wednesday, depending on badly things go during the course of the next four years?

Dark enough that reading a comic book drawn by John Romita Jr. in which Batman uses heavy metal music to defeat undead ninjas underwater failed to cheer me up.

Scott Snyder and JRJR's "My Own Worst Enemy" story arc seems to be nearing a conclusion as, at the very least, no new villains are introduced or pass through the story, which was the main joy of the previous three issues (Those ninjas, by the way, turned out to be Court of Owls Talons, dressed in costumes designed to appeal to Two-Face's aesthetic sensibility). Snyder is doing something very, very different with Two-Face's origin and relationship with Bruce Wayne, so different, in fact, that I'm tempted to reread the Peter Tomasi-written "Big Burn" story arc from Batman and Robin, which gave Two-Face a new, post-Flashpoint origin story. I'm not sure how or if these two stories even line up, although I'm not terribly bothered. Two-Face regularly gets origin tweaks.

The Declan Shalvey-drawn back-up starring Duke Thomas seems to have reached its conclusion here, as Duke figures everything out, and then is about to be murdered by Zsasz when Batman intervenes. I know I've said this before, but each installment of this reminds me of the fact that Snyder seems to be writing Duke with Tim Drake's origin story and general portrayal...right down to Duke being smart enough to solve crimes, but not yet good enough to take on supervillains hand-to-hand like Batman can.

Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures #1 (IDW Publishing) I did a lot of complaining around the first Batman/TMNT crossover comic, much of which came from the same place–the belief that these sorts of inter-company crossover stories should be regarded as, and created as if they were, real once-in-a-lifetime events, and thus ambitiously attempt to accomplish absolutely everything anyone could ever want from such a pairing of franchises (JLA/Avengers is probably the best example of such a crossover). The first Batman/TMNT pairing certainly didn't do that, and wasn't exactly anything at all like what I, as a lifelong fan of both, would have wanted, although it was well-made enough.

The fact that there is a second crossover between the two coming just a few weeks after the first was released as a trade collection is comforting, though, because if they are going to do more than one of these things, then it certainly relieves the pressure on each of them to be amazing. It helps too that this second one has such a particular focus: This isn't Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it is the Batman from Batman: The Animated Series and the TMNT from the current Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon.

At first, that seems an odd pairing, if only because of the timing. New episodes of Batman: The Animated Series was on-air from 1992-1995, whereas TMNT debuted in 2012 and is still ongoing. I suppose pairing a TAS Batman with the Turtles from the original 1987 cartoon, or the Batman from Beware The Batman with the 2012 Turtles would make more sense in terms of timing, but it depends on how one wants to look at it. The TAS Batman is the best animated Batman, and the current cartoon's TMNT are the best animated TMNT, so there's your commonality.

(And I hope they keep doing these; it increases the likelihood of them producing one I really, really want like, say, an Alan Grant/Kevin Eastman/Eric Talbot black and white comic featuring late-era Mirage TMNT teaming with early 1990s Batman, for example.)

I'm honestly not familiar with the creative team here, although two-thirds of the names are familiar. It's written by Matrthew K. Manning, and drawn by Jon Sommariva (credited as "artist") and inked by Sean Parsons.

It's set in two different worlds, the Gotham of TAS and the New York City of TMNT. A bunch of inmates have escaped from Arkham Asylum at once, under extremely mysterious circumstances, and Batman is trying to track them down. He gets Two-Face, but a few others have appeared in TMNT's NYC: Clayface and, on the last page, The Joker and Harley Quinn.

Manning seems to write everyone well, and they all seem in character (There's a particularly sweet Alfred burn in here, too). The title characters have yet to meet, and the exact nature of the setting-swapping hasn't been explained yet, but so far, so good.

The artwork by Sommariva is a little awkward to my eye, and may take some getting used to. He does a fine job of using the designs of the source material, and drawing "neutral" things like civilians, settings and objects in a way that fits both shows' aesthetics. There's a certain fidelity lacking, though; scenes in Gotham look a little too detailed (And Two-Face is watching Pretty Pretty Pegasus from Teen Titans Go! on TV? Not Tiny Toons?), and those characters all look a bit more dynamic and stylized than they probably should.

Additionally, I'm not used to seeing these TMNT characters on the drawn page at all, so they always look weird to me.

Of course, maybe I'm operating under the wrong assumptions. Maybe this comic isn't meant to be a crossover of the two TV shows in comic book form, but a crossover of the two comic books based on those two TV shows...?

I don't know. It may take me a few issues to just get used to what is admittedly a pretty peculiar but fun crossover story.

There were two or three covers available at my shop, and I chose the one above (by Ciro Nieli). There's a two-page spread in the back showing all 20 different variants for the issues (20!), and the two probably worth noting are the one by Ty Templeton (who drew plenty of issues of the original Batman Adventures comic book) and another by Mirage's Steve Lavigne, inked by Peter Laird. Kevin Eastman also provides a cover, but he did so for the original series too; whenever he draws ninja turtles with pupils in their masks it really freaks me out.

Betty & Veronica #2 (Archie Comics) Pairing long-time pin-up style cover artist Adam Hughes with the subject matter of teenage girls–let alone Riverdale's teenage girls–still feels awkward, even when compared to all of the other publishing choices of the new Riverdale line of comics Archie has been publishing over the last few years (up to and including Afterlife With Archie, really).

It should be noted that there's little here that feels inappropriately oversexualized, and most of that awkwardness comes from what a reader might bring to the book regarding Hughes' oeuvre and Archie Comics' characters. Well, that and, perhaps, the fact that Hughes draws in such a realistic style that his teen girls look so much more like real teen girls than the flatter, coloring-book look that has been Archie's house style for so long. For example, there are a few classic pin-ups in the back of this issue, in which the girls wear bathing suits and are otherwise much more scantily-clad than they are at any point in the Hughes story, and they still look somehow more innocent than a Hughes drawing of Betty in a sweatshirt and jeans.

It's not the comic, though; it's us. (Well, me, I guess, but I'm extrapolating here).

I mean, there's a bikini car wash in this issue, and yet we don't really see any girls in bikinis–just in extreme long-shot, and then off-panel. (The top tier of panels on page 15 could prove objectionable, I suppose).

There's a little of that weirdness I noted in the first issue here, where it seems like maybe Hughes is filling space, but the story continues apace, and the dialogue is still surprisingly funny, with a quick clip to the number of jokes per panels.

Betty is trying to raise the $60,000 necessary to save Pop's from being turned into a Starbucks (er, a "Kweekwegs"), and Veronica, whose father owns the Kweekwegs chain, is trying to thwart her by simultaneously raising money for charity in more attractive ways, sucking up everyone's would-be donations.

I didn't understand the ending, and I remain confused over whether that's supposed to be Kevin Keller standing with Veronica throughout, or just a generic blonde guy.

Otherwise, pretty solid stuff.

Lumberjanes/Gotham Academy #6 (Boom Studios) This is it! The conclusion of the six-issue miniseries teaming Gotham Academy's Detective Club with The Lumberjanes' Roanoke Cabin to combat a weird magical threat involving time-twisting and teenage emotions!

Most of the action occurred in the penultimate issue, with Rosie and April wrestling the amalgamated bone monster and then everyone tying it up constituting the biggest action scene in this issue (I'm surprised writer Chynna Clugston Flores failed to make any jokes or references to knot-tying when the 'Janes tied it up; surely one of the benefits of being a Lumberjane tying up supernatural threats is that you know your way around knots, right? I'm pretty sure they've all got badges in that).

Otherwise, the climax is all about talking, understanding and realization...a pretty nice conclusion that is in keeping with the spirit of the home comics. Overall, I liked Rosemary Valero-O'Connell's art work, but her style didn't serve the resolution particularly well, as I was unclear if the girl at the center of the spell aged into adulthood like the rest of the kidnapped grown-ups upon the spell breaking, or if she retained her youth. Valero-O'Connell's artwork was so abstracted and smoothed that her forty-somethings don't look any different than her teenagers, for the most part.

Gotham Academy: Second Semester #3 (DC) It's Detective Club vs. Witch Club! The Withes go down remarkably easily, considering that they are just other students wearing witch hats (with mind-control circuitry on the inside; The Mad Hatter is never evoked, but it looks just like Jervis Tetch's tech). So, basically, in order to stop the witches, all the good guys need to do is to knock their hats off. This is somehow still presented as seriously dramatic, rather than ironically so.

As to what the weird plot, which involves stealing and burning books is all about, it's never really revealed, but it clearly has something to do with the witch and school librarian Mister Scarlet. The bigger events happen around the margins, however, as we learn that Colton is apparently gay (and has a crush on Kyle) and that he's to be expelled from Gotham Academy.

Wonder Woman #10 (DC) Back to "Year One" with Nicola Scott. In this issue, Steve, Etta and Barbara take Diana to the mall in an attemnpt to acclimate her to American culture, and they get her a margarita--a strong departure from the ice cream she has so previously expressed joy and wonderment in during other first trips into Man's world (like Geoff Johns' first Justice League arc, the direct-to-DVD animated adaptation of that arc Justice League: War and that awesome James Tynion/Noelle Stevenson short from Sensation Comics). Naturally, terrorists attack the mall with machine guns and grenades, and Wonder Woman discovers her new gods-given superpowers during the melee, including her ability to block bullets with her bracelets, in what writer Greg Rucka and artist Scott present as a big, important moment.