Thursday, January 19, 2017

Comic Shop Comics: January 18th

Archie #16 (Archie Comics) This is a sort of weird issue, in that it just barely advances the book's ongoing plot at all, instead devoting much of its page count to focusing on secondary characters Dilton, Moose and Reggie, the first two of whom have barely appeared in Archie since the relaunch, but all three of them have received attention in the other new Riverdale books (Hell, Reggie has his own book now).

This issue is also sans a back-up, instead running the same multi-page ad that ran in last week's issue or Jughead. Shame, Archie Comics, shame!

Batman #15 (DC Comics) Writer Tom King and Mitch Gerards conclude their two-part "Rooftops" story about the weird relationship between Batman and Catwoman, the weirdness of which was explored during a middle section of previous arc "I Am Suicide." This issue resolves a mystery about Catwoman that put her in that story at all--the fact that she was arrested for over 100 murders--but it is mainly the second half of a 40-page exploration of Batman and Catwoman's kinda sorta, on-again, off-again doomed romance.

I'm not a fan of Gerards' art style, but he does a neat impression of Bob Kane and David Mazzucchelli in several panels, as Batman and Catwoman compare their dueling memories of when and where they first met (he contends that their first meeting was in 1940's Batman #1, when she was a jewel thief known as The Cat, while she contends that their first meeting was in the pages of the 1987 Frank Miller-written "Batman: Year One" arc).

Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye #4 (DC) Tom Scioli's continuing story of the royal twins of Exxor in his "Super Powers" feature is here sandwiched between two particularly extraordinary pages. The first is set before the Judeo-Christian creation story, in The Silver City, wherein The Angel Etrigan is among the warriors who battles the Elder God Ipsissimus (Google it; not a DC character, but an interesting foe!). Etrigan is positioned as something of a DCU Lucifer, as he's one of God's greatest angels, but questions why he should have to serve the humans who are about to be created in the garden below. The usage of the hand that writes in burning letters from Jack Kirby's Fourth World mythology is interesting in its usage here; its not the sole way God communicates with his angels, but it's one way. It's interesting because not only is Etrigan also a Kirby creation, but because of the suggestions between the relationships of various DC mythologies. This is the stuff I love about the DC Universe, and Scioli is one of the few who even attempts it, aside from Grant Morrison.

The third page is set in the present, and feature Scioli's Supergirl rescuing Wonder Woman from an invisible jet crash, a fun sequence, recasts the lasso as Lassie and devotes an entire panel to what looks like the Green Lantern Corps attempting to conquer Earth...?

I can't help but be disappointed that Batlazar and Franco are getting 20 pages or so a month on their comic entitled Super Powers, while Scioli only gets three pages. Of course, three pages of a Scioli comic are like three issues of a normal comic, so I suppose it all even outs.

This is, of course, just the back-up feature in Gerard Way and Michael Avon Oeming's Cave Carson comic. It's mediocre, which I know has a terrible connotation, but which I mean in the sense of its definition. It's not great, but it's not bad either. It's a perfectly fine comic book about an underground explorer, his automatic weapon-wielding wingman and the sinister corporation trying to exploit him and his discoveries, with quirky art. If it weren't followed by Scioli's rearrangement of the DC Universe, however, I imagine I wouldn't be buying and reading it serially.

Justice League of America: The Ray--Rebirth #1 (DC) This is the third of the JLoA "Rebirth" one-shots in as many weeks, and it's the first I actually bought, on account of my affection for the Ray Terrill iteration of the character, an early nineties legacy version of Lou Fine's Golden Age character created (or should that be re-created?) by Jack C. Harris and Joe Quesada (although it was writer Christopher Priest who was responsible for writing all the good Ray stories in the ongoing series that followed Harris' miniseries).

While writer Steve Orlando and artist and colorist Stephen Byrne are working with that particular version of the character here, complete with a costume hewing quite close to the one originally conceived by Quesada, this issue rather unfortunately reads like the first issue of Ultimate Ray, in the same way that the two previous specials, and that far too many of the post-Flashpoint introductions of various extant characters, read like unnecessary Ultimate comics versions of themselves (It should go without saying that The Ray and The All-New Atom don't exactly have long, complicated histories like those of Spider-Man and The X-Men that might potentially intimidate new readers curious about them
). In other words, this is basically just a re-telling of the character's origins, with some changes here and there, seemingly made to make the character fit into the current continuity, rather than to serve the character or the story (Such as the story is, as this is just a 20-page origin).

Of course, the current state of the DCU shared-setting is pretty unfriendly to a character like The Ray in general. In addition to being a legacy character, a type of superhero comic which Flashpoint made all but forbidden unless said character was a Robin, The Ray name and powers are passed down from a Golden Age character, and that time period was excised from the DCU during Flashpoint...although it may or may not be coming back in some mysterious form, thanks to...whatever DC's doing with the Watchmen characters and their universe's timeline (Johnny Storm made a brief cameo as a memory-addled old man in the pages of DC Universe: Rebirth, remember). And then there's the fact that the publisher already introduced an entirely different Ray, in an almost completely ignored miniseries, during the earlier part of The New 52.

None of which means the publisher shouldn't use The Ray at all, just that there are challenges, and with this one-shot being an origin, it only serves to emphasize how challenging the character is to use at the moment. At least for fans like me, I suppose; if this is your very first exposure to a character named The Ray, than none of the above likely matters*. (In that case though, there's probably not a lot here to make you like the character; this is a very dour story, condensing the plotline of the original miniseries into 20-pages, and making a few necessary-ish changes and one much less so change). Personally, I think Orlando's upcoming Justice League of America comic might have been better served had it simply started in media res, with Ray Terrill already operating as a superhero named The Ray, and the specifics of his origins and how they may or may not have changed during various cosmic resets and reboots glossed over rather than dwelt upon.

Visually, Byrne employs the traditional effect of The Ray's power manifestation, in which his body becomes black while bright yellow light emanates from his eyes, mouth and the highlights of his costume, but he lacks the light aura Quesdada, Howard Porter and others used to draw around him, a trailing yellow line with a jagged edge when in flight, drawing him like a literal ray. I liked that. Some of that is probably nostalgia, sure, but it was also very distinct, and made the character look different than all the other flying superheroes--of which there are no shortage. I imagine Byrne dropped that because comics coloring technology now allows for more "realistic" coloring effects. Just as no one ever draws Starfire the way George Perez used to, with her long hair turning into a sort of comet trail when she was in flight, which one could trace backwards to the horizon or the border of a panel.

I'm still curious about the character's future in the upcoming Justice League book, and I'm still hopeful his entire original series will end up in trade at some point, along with Justice League Task Force (I have some holes in my collection I'd rather fill with trades, DC). But this is a pretty skippable one-shot...not unlike The Atom and Vixen Rebirth one-shots that preceded it.

Oh, and it's not super-clear, as it is only mentioned in a single planel, but I think Ray Terrill is supposed to be gay in the new continuity (The pre-Flashpoint Ray Terrill was straight, but the version of The Ray that appeared in Grant Morrison's Multiversity issue set on Earth-10, The Mastermen was gay; Orlando is apparently a pretty big Morrison fan, as his mention of Vanity from Morrison and Mark Millar's Aztek in this issue and his repeated allusions to Morrison's late-90's DC work in the pages of his Midngihter comics seem to indicate).

That one panel has Ray sitting in a movie theater next to a guy who has his arm around him, and they are sharing popcorn together, and his narration reads "Crazy how much easier it is to find a guy when you're visible" (Um, he spent a lot of time invisible, you see). They are making really weird faces at one another, like they are talking through gritted teeth while posing for an awkward photo, though.

Nightwing #13 (DC) Not sure what's up with the creepy-ass cover, the tone of which doens't at all match the more light-hearted superhero adventure of Tim Seeley and Marcu To's interiors. This is another chapter of the arc dealing with "The Run-Offs," which feels climactic and like it should maybe be the final issue of the arc, or at least the penultimate one, but it keeps going.

The true killer who has been framing everyone, including attempting to frame Nightwing (that's why Nightwing has a creepy mask of himself on the cover), is revealed, and it is the one suspect that has been introduced so far (as far as mysteries go, this one isn't as hard as most episodes of Scooby-Doo).

Super Powers #3 (DC) There's a rather unfortunate printing error in this issue, in which pages 13 and 14 seem to be swapped, so the sequence of events make no sense at all. I puzzled over what on earth happened for a while before I realized it was so nonsensical that maybe they put a page in backwards which, in fact, was what they did. So should you pick up a copy of the latest issue of Art Baltazar and Franco's DC superhero comic, be forewarned!

This issue centers around two big events. The first is the arrival of Brimstone in Metropolis. Amusingly, Baltazar draws him as a gigantic egg-shaped character with arms and legs. Supergirl, Martian Manhunter, Wonder Woman and Aquaman all take turns trying to take Brimstone down, in that order. Baltazar's Aquaman is fantastic. I would hang a poster of his Aquaman, striking the pose he does in the panel where he says, "What's up, my surface friends?!" in my apartment, were such a poster available.

Meanwhile, on New Krypton, Brainiac and Zod are up to no good, and Baltazar and Franco introduce their own version of everyone's least favorite DC character, Superboy-Prime. He's pretty different than the last version of that character we've seen, and not just because he spells "Prime" with a "Y."

Oh, and on the last page, it is revealed who the mysterious villain Luthor was talking to in previous issues really was. It will come as no surprise that it is Darkseid, although what is surprising is the way Baltazar re-designed him, so he looks much less like the fireplug shape he was in previous Baltazar-drawn comics (Like Tiny Titans, where he was the evil lunch lady of Sidekick Elementary). Now he is pretty large, with a gigantic round head that looks oddly naked without the blue hood. He looks a bit like a baleen whale with arms and legs and a tiny cape, really.

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