Friday, February 17, 2017

Comic Shop Comics: February 15th

Archie #17 (Archie Comics) There's one really strong gag that runs through this entire issue, a source of mounting tension that powers it towards a climax. Cheryl Blossom, newly arrived in Riverdale, has set her sites on Archie Andrews as a way of seeking revenge against Veronica Lodge. Blossom mainly knows Archie from the fact that a young woman of Veronica Lodge's wealth, standing and superior social combat skills was madly in love with him, and thus she assumes that he is some sort of "Greek god." She therefore spends the majority of the issue laying groundwork for their eventual meeting as a secret admirer. The gag works because we know Archie differently, and the climax is, of course, when she finally meets Archie and discovers what he's really like. He makes his grand entrance in spectacularly goofy fashion...and I'm afraid artist Joe Eisma just doesn't sell the moment, which an entire one-third of a page is devoted to.

I don't want to spoil it, but the specifics of the panel, it's lay-out and interior logic, they communicate the idea, but only in the most rudimentary fashion. It's rather disappointingly drawn, a good joke poorly told, and because so much of the issue has been leading up to it, it feels even more like a let-down than some other random, poorly-executed panel might have. It's really too bad, because it's a very Archie moment, one in which the original iteration of character surfaces in the more modern, more sophisticated "New Riverdale" take, and thus really demonstrates core aspects of the Archie character.

Also! This $3.99/20-page issue again features no back-up, but instead another, albeit different, six-page ad for the CW's TV show Riverdale. Come one, Archie! Let's get that back-up back; I'm actively considering dropping you at this point. (A decision that will be made much easier knowing that sister books Jughead and Josie and The Pussycats art both many times more awesome than Archie at the moment, anyway.)

Batman #17 (DC Comics) First, some thoughts on the script:

  • Remember how last issue's cliffhanger ending was Nightwing, Red Hood and Robin all shirtless and dangling from nooses from in the Batcave, wearing signs reading "I AM BANE"...? At the time, I wondered if they were meant to be mannequins there to freak Batman out, or people dressed in their costumes to freak Batman out or...what. I still don't know! This issue opens with Batman bringing the three of them in some kind of cryogenic, status tube-looking things to the Fortress of Solitude and asking Superman to babysit them. Also, he put their shirts back on. I still have no idea what happened to them last issue, but presumably that was them hanging from nooses, and they somehow didn't die from it?

  • This is yet another issue of the recent Batman comics where the writer himself raises the issue of "Why doesn't Batman just ask Superman for help?" (As in "Night of The Monster Men," when Batman, Batwoman and Nightwing fought a bunch of giant monsters rampaging through Gotham City, and then called Superman to help with the clean up, not the monster-fighting). If you're going to go to the trouble to fly to the North Pole with your pals in stasis tubes, break into the Fortress of Solitude and then wait in the shadows until Superman arrives just so you can ask him to babysit your comatose friends, why not instead just text him, "Fighting Bane; could use a hand" and wait for Superman to fly in, locate Bane in, like, a few seconds with his super-senses and have him bend a few lampposts around Bane and fly him to Belle Reve? The answer "Because this is a Batman comic, not a Superman comic" isn't as convincing when they keep putting Superman in it too, you know?

  • King uses the Grant Morrison/Frank Quitely update of the old idea of Superman having a key to the Fortress that is so heavy pretty much only someone as strong as him could lift it to open it, as seen in All-Star Superman.

  • There's a weird name-dropping of Mister Miracle, which, like the mention of Steel during "Monster Men," sounds like a holdover from the pre-Flashpoint DCU, not the New 52. Remember, Mister Miracle was just introduced during "The Darkseid War," and barely knows Batman, the Justice Leaguers or...anyone on this planet, really. And he just sort of disappeared at the end of that story, like a bunch of the characters. So it's weird to think Jeremiah Arkham hired him to design a security wing for Arkham Asylum, isn't it?

  • I was quite pleasantly surprised to see the return of Bird, Zombie and Trogg, Chuck Dixon/Graham Nolan creations from Batman: Vengeance of Bane who served as the character's original gang and confidants...and then pretty much disappeared after the events of "Knightfall" and its aftermath. So surprised, in fact, that I didn't recognize Bird until his bird showed up (artist David Finch dresses him in his more flamboyant vest and falconry outfit in a later scene).

  • There's a very nonsensical scene where Bane comes at Commissioner Gordon and Duke through a wall in an alley for some reason, but instead of punching his way through the wall (there's no sound effects there, although King makes a big deal out of the cawing of a bird later in the issue), or ripping through the wall with his bare hands (Finch never draws his fingertips or anything until he's through), the wall just gradually cracks, like Bane was...slowly pushing into it with his knuckles until it gave way....? The mechanics of the scene make no sense at all, although this might be because Finch is terrible at drawing comic books.

Speaking of Finch, a few notes on his performance:

  • Do you know how you can tell the difference between teenage girl Stephanie Brown and grown-ass woman Selina Kyle in a blonde wig? The latter has green eyes. And that's the only way! David Finch is...not real good at drawing distinct characters.

  • This may have been me more than him, because on a third reading it is clear enough, but the first time I read this I thought Bird's bird was tearing a huge chunk of bloody flesh out of the dead Catwoman, not a random dead cat.

  • I already mentioned the bit where Bane walks through a wall weirdly.

  • The placement of the splash pages is pretty weird and unfortunate, and both of them seem like complete wastes of space. Granted, this could have been King, rather than King accommodating Finch's wishes, but a tight close-up on Bane lighting a flare on a rooftop isn't the dramatic part of that scene, it's what he highlights with that flare that's the kicker, right?

So this was a pretty fun issue, with lots of the little deep DCU references I generally like (although given the uncertain nature of DC continuity, which in the "Rebirth" era seems to be an awkward use of the New 52 as canon and pre-Flashpoint allusions as permissible), but I would have preferred a different artist.

Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures #4 (IDW Publishing) Batman, Leonardo and Raphael go after The Scarecrow, before reuniting with the others to tackle The Joker, Harley, their commandeered Footbots and their two new mutants, a pair of hyenas named Bud and Lou dressed in big, purple suits like The Joker's own. Given that these hyena men appear to be at least nine-feet tall, I can't imagine where they got those suits. Surely even the biggest and tallest Big and Tall store in New York City wouldn't have suits on the rack for anyone that big and tall, would they? And, in the off chance they did, would they have them in purple?

Writer Matthew K. Manning and artists Jon Sommariva and Sean Parsons seem to be doing a pretty good job at working their way through Batman: The Animated Series' rogue's gallery at a quick clip, with The Scarecrow's fear gas effects on Batman allowing Sommariva to draw a panel full of deep, deep cuts of TAS villains, from The Condiment King and Baby Doll to that Lady With The Tattoo that was in the first Catwoman episodes and That One Ninja Guy Batman Fought Once. Hell, there's Clock King, Lock-Up and...that one guy who basically just a Charles Dickens character who lived in the sewer....? (Look, it's been a long time since I watched Batman: TAS, okay?)

The Scarecrow's design is his second (not the one from his first appearance, which was my favorite of the TAS Scarecrows, nor the later, redesigned version with the noose around his neck), which looks pretty cool in at least one panel, where Batman, suffering from the gas' effects, sees him with a straight-up Jack O'Lantern-style face on his mask.

Somewhat surprisingly, Team Bat and Team Turtle are able to take down The Joker and Harley--with an assist from The Shredder's iron will and his mutant soldiers deciding to sit the fight out--which eliminates all of the above as the Big Bad's of the miniseries. The actual Big Bad appears on the last page and it's a surprising one, given his relatively low place in the hierarchy of Batman villains. There's still two more issues to go, so it will be interesting to see how they deal with this villain...or if there ends up being someone behind this villain as well.

This comic has been weird, but a pretty fun kind of weird.

Cave Carson Has A Cybernetic Eye #5 (DC) So much happens in the three pages of Tom Scioli's "Super Powers" back-up story! The Joker and his army (now fortified by The Penguin and his army!) vs. The Green Lantern Corps on the streets of Gotham! They've already taken down Wonder Woman, stolen her clothes and tied her up in a Satanic mummy bondage dreamcatcher; what hope does Batgirl have as she uses her bicycle in hand-to-hand combat against The Joker and his talking mallet? Oh shit, Batman arrives right from the set of Batman '89!

On Exxor, the mysterious Sphinx has the lower part of his big, red robe torn, revealing a very familiar-looking pair of knee-high boots and a bit of stone-gray thigh! And then Superman's Super Powers toy-line vehicle, the one with punching fists, struggles in vain against Brainiac's ship, and Supergirl a version of her later pre-Crisis costume!

All I can say about this back-up feature this month is multiples of exclamation marks!


It is preceded by a Cave Carson story, perhaps most notable for the fact that DC is publishing a Cave Carson story at all, and Superman is discussed and will apparently appear in a future issue of this comic book title, which in this issue featured a young lady' snaked breasts and swear words! Not exactly Superman's normal stomping grounds. (On the other hand, I did just watch an R-rated Justice League cartoon with Superman in it last week, so who can say anymore?)

Future Quest Vol. 1 (DC) So DC decided to stick two of the very best artists they've got willing to do work for them at the moment, Evan Shaner and Steve Rude, on this weirdo Crisis Of Infinite Fairly Obscure Cartoon Superheroes and Adventure Types From the 1960s-style book instead of, say, Batman and Superman? Huh.

I'll talk about Future Quest at greater length elsewhere. It's...weird, but since it is part of a mini-line that includes The Flintstones, the weirdest comic I've read in years, it doesn't seem that weird at all. It's definitely the all-around best of the Hanna-Barbereboot books, and one of the all-around better super-comics DC's publishing at the moment, and this moment sees the publisher's line stronger than it has been in a good half-decade, if not longer.

Also weird isthe fact that it sucks up so much talent, Jeff Parker, Ron Randall, Jonathan Case, Aaron Lopresti and Craig Rousseau also contribute to the art, and Parker, of course, writes.

If you like superheroes, you're going to like it.

Green Lanterns #17 (DC) I've been pretty lukewarm on the various Green Lantern books since Geoff Johns left the franchise, but of the two current books, this is the one I check out most frequently. This time I did so because of the presence of one of my favorite characters, The Scarecrow.

As established last issue, something weird and fear-related is going on in Gotham City, and Batman has his two new Justice League peers, Green Lanterns Jessica Cruz and Simon Baz, helping him investigate. Because it is happening in Gotham and happens to involve fear, Baz assumes it must be The Scarecrow. And because it involves some sort of weird fear energy, Batman assumes it must have something to do with the Sinestro Corps. And it turns out they're both right!

The Scarecrow, who you may remember briefly had a Sinestro Corps ring during the events of Johns' Blackest Night, has been obsessing over the fear-fueled power ring ever since, and in his down-time had devoted some off-panel research into how it works. He didn't figure it all out, of course, but he did build a big fear energy contraption, with which he infects YouTube watchers with fear, which makes them commit terrible crimes? I don't know, exactly; the science is a bit vague.

I rather like pencil artist Eduardo Pansica and inker Julio Ferreira's design of The Scarecrow. He is still stuck in the post-Flashpoint, no-variation-ever mode of costume, in which he wears a bag over his head and a rope around his neck, but Pansica draws the bag with a bit of a tail at the top, which after five years actually looks like a rather dramatic departure. There's also a flashback panel showing him with the yellow ring, where he's wearing a hat and long coat).

He has a Sinestro Corps/fear symbol drawn on his chest, and, oddly enough, in a second minor variation, he is wearing a green shirt rather than a brown one, as he has been. Of all the times to wear green, doing so when appearing in a book called Green Lanterns and fighting against Green Lanterns seems an odd time to do it.

I might have picked this up for The Scarecrow, but the more dramatic turn of events seems to be Batman finally--finally--convincing Baz that he doesn't need to carry a fucking gun all the time when he's a fucking Green Lantern, and a weird moment at the climax where Batman tells Baz he doesn't really like Green Lanterns, but, in Baz, he's finally found one he can work with, and that he intends to ask him to do something for him at some point.

This involves Batman talking smack on Hal Jordan and Guy Gardner, a "glory hound" and " idiot", respectively (These lines could have, should have, been much longer, as Batman lists their many flaws. In this continuity, apparently Batman never really hung out with Kyle Rayner or John Stewart*, and Gotham City's original superhero (in post-Crisis, pre-Flashpoint continuity, anyway) Green Lantern Alan Scott never existed, so when he says "I've waited a long, longwork with... And you're it." he really just means five years.

James Harren's cover, which features neither Batman nor The Scarecrow, would appear to be an inventory one the editors just had laying around. Generally speaking, if you've got Batman guest-starring in your comic, you would want to drive that home by including him on the cover, but here there's just a pretty generic cover of the two stars using their powers, while Batman's appearance is announced only by the somewhat awkward use of his name and the logo of his own book on the cover.

Lumberjanes #35 (Boom Studios) I have always really wanted to like the sport of roller derby for its many appealing aspects (girls, puns, violence), but I could just never quite figure out the rules (My grandfather used to watch it on television when I was a child, and I assumed it was like professional wrestling on roller skates; I assumed wrong). In this issue of Lumberjanes, writers Shannon Watters and Kat Leyh spend two entire pages explaining the seemingly over-complicated rules of Roller Derby in the medium I find most appealing, and I still found myself zoning in and out of that sequence. And man, if a comic book involving a Sasquatch roller derby team can't get me to understand and enthusiastically embrace the sport, I can't imagine anything ever will.

That said, I really love how artist Carolyn Nowak draws the sasquatches--who look huge here, now that we see them standing right next to the tween stars of the book for scale, and the violent pun names of the various Lumberjanes, I mean, Rumblejanes, are all pretty funny.

Nightwing #15 (DC) Provisionally, I really, really liked this issue by regular writer Tim Seeley and artist Minkyu Jung. It is by far the best issue of the series since its relaunch (and yes, I realize that's not saying all that much, given that there have only been 14 issues and two story arcs so far), and one of the smarter, more clever issues of a Dick Grayson-starring comic book that I've read in...years...? Maybe since the Futures End one-shot of Grayson...?

Seeley and Jung condense a 68-day relationship between Dick Grayson and Shawn Tsang into a single, 20-page issue, with a series of flashbacks that hops and skips through their relationship, much of the information about it communicated second-hand, as we hear them describe the events that are unfolding to their friends and confidants and, ultimately, their mentors. There are a lot of little milestones--first date, first time they spent the night together, Dick meeting her parents, their first fight, etc--and a lot of guest-stars. Seeley handles all of this very well, and actually does a pretty fine job of selling Dick's relationships with various other heroes remarkably well. That's harder than it used to be, given the events of Flashpoint, which basically scrambled all of Dick's relationships, and he's maybe the most prominent DC superhero who is almost completely defined by his relationships, to the point that a solo comic starring him that doesn't mention his relationship to any other hero is damn near unfathomable (I had a hard time buying him and Jason Todd as best buds here still, and Dick and Barbara Gordon's relationship seems so weird to me now that DC seems to be de-aging Babs while Dick remains the same age).

The sole reason I say "provisionally" is because of the ending, which I won't spoil, but is hopefully more of a matter of routine mortal peril that the superhero genre is soaked in, rather than the eve of a fridging, as if it is the latter, this issue would seem almost despicably manipulative, as it so thoroughly invests the reader in a burgeoning relationship, basically "cheating" on the pacing. We'll see in a few weeks, I guess. Until then, definitely highly recommended, and a good jumping-on point for anyone curious about Nightwing in general, or at this point in time specifically.

Superman #17 (DC) This is a pretty weird issue, from the regular writing team of Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason and guest artist Sebastian Fiumara. Within its pages, Superboy is left home alone by his busy parents when neighbor girl Kathy comes to him for help finding her missing grandfather, who went looking for his missing cow. The pair of them go into the nearby swamp, and a series of very crazy, rather scary things start happening, in such a rapidly increasing manner that by the end of the issue, I was more than half expecting it to end with Jon waking up from a dream. Something unusual is going on, but it's quite unclear what it is. There appears to be someone or something around the swamp messing with Jon and Kathy, and there are points where here grandfather seemed like a likely suspect, and other points where it looked like it could be the mysterious extra Clark Kent (from the pages from Action Comics) or perhaps The Eradicator. It's an okay issue, but it's not a story so much as a sequence of weird, wild events, so it will likely leave most readers wanting.

I didn't buy it, but I did read this week's Super Sons #1, which has a lot in common with this issue, featuring as it does Jon in an after-dark adventure that begins after dark in his Hamilton County farm home. The relationship between Superboy and Robin, which was already established and explored in previous issues of this series, is a fun one, and what is maybe the most fun thing about it is that it is still so new, making it more exciting than many already-classic superhero team-ups. If you like Superman, there's a pretty good chance you'll like, or even love, Super Sons (I certainly liked the revelation of some of the weird shit Damian gets up to when he's bored during the day). I would add it to my pull-list, but as they have already announced that it would be getting a price increase in the near future, I guess I'm just gonna trade-wait it like I do Marvel's $3.99 books.

Kong of Skull Island Vol. 1 (Boom) This trade paperback collection includes the first four issues of the weird, apparently ongoing King Kong origin story, Kong of Skull Island. When I first saw issues of it appearing in the shop, I flipped through them and saw multiple giant gorillas and a couple of dinosaurs, and assumed that this was a prequel to the original King Kong film, and somehow related to the upcoming feature film, Kong: Skull Island. And given the price and number of cool-looking variants, I decided to await the trade paperback

It wasn't until I started reading it in this format, however, and I came across a few familiar feeling elements, most specifically the mention of a tribal storyteller and, later, strange, feathered dinosaur-like creatures that seem to be even smarter than Jurassic Park's smartest raptors that the waves of deja vu were strong enough that I realized that this is actually set in the world of Joe DeVito's 2004 illustrated novel, Kong: King of Skull Island**, a rather rollicking adventure story that served as both a sequel to the original King Kong film (and its accompanying novelization) and an origin story.

I say it doesn't have anything to do with the upcoming film, but that's not quite true. One imagines that the timing is no coincidence--the first issue didn't show up in comic shops until well after the film and its title was announced, and the trade arrives in shops the month before the film opens--and a quick Google shows me that there was at one point some legal issues regarding DeVito's book and the film, as the latter apparently includes elements of the former. At least, that seems to be DeVito's contention. My opinion, which is pretty worthless anyway in legal matters, can't even be offered until I see the film.

But here's what we've got: This is a comic book series written by James Asmus and drawn by Carlos Magno that the title page says is "Based on Kong of Skull Island created by Joe DeVito." In other words, this is a comic book spin-off of an illustrated novelization of a spin-off of a feature film. Got that? Meanwhile, a feature film rebooting the feature film that this comic is ultimately descended from is also going to be in theaters shortly, but they seem to be parallel, despite sharing a single ancestor...although whether they intersect or not can't be said for certain at this point (Well, they will intersect to a degree, at least; I mean, at the very least they should both feature a giant gorilla and an island with a huge skull-shaped mountain on it. I'm hoping for some dinosaurs and a sexy lady, too).

As a fan of King Kong, I'm certainly not unhappy about all these Kong narratives, regardless of what went on behind the scenes. I just hope they are all good. This is...well, it's not great.

The origin of the giant gorilla is revealed, and it's pretty prosaic: a mixture of selective breeding and "growth stimulants" has resulted in a race of likely impossibly giant, intelligent, bipedal gorillas (I'd have to do some research, but I think a giant gigantopithecus could potentially get in the neighborhood of King Kong's size, but gorillas? Not so much...and certainly not the size of the new movie's Kong, who seems to be closer to Godzilla's weight-class than the original Kong. Personally, I don't think an explanation for Kong's existence is necessarily a good thing, as he's the sort of character for whom an explanation drains some of the magic and mystery out of, automatically making him less interesting.

These giants, referred to collectively as kongs, aren't the center of the story Asmus tells, though. Rather, this is the story of a completely isolated civilization composed of two distinct groups, the Tagu and the Atu. They have different methods of kong training, and they use their giant gorillas to fight one another in what appears to be a mixture of ritual and sport. The actual center of the story is the political intrigue of the royals in the two warring clans, and the way they react to a potentially apocalyptic natural disaster: Their volcanic island is about to be destroyed by geological calamity (not unlike Skull Island was in the only really official King Kong sequel, 1933's Son Of Kong).

Luckily for them--well, some of them--Kong trainer Ewata had just rediscovered the cursed island full of monsters known as Skull Island, and it is there that all of the people and their giant gorillas must flee to, an out of the fire, back into the frying pan sort of situation. Ewata's first trip there wasn't exactly a successful one; they were attacked by pteradons and giant, sea-going reptiles that flipped their boat, ate a bunch of people and fought the Kongs. When they made it to the beach, they were met by more dinosaurs. They bugged the fuck out and headed right back to their homeland, which was about to be destroyed anyway.

So this is the origin story not only of King Kong, but of the Skull Island natives, who, it turns out, aren't natives so much as settlers. As one of the most problematic elements of the original film, I think dwelling on the Skull Islanders too can be a mistake, and Peter Jackson and company rightly tried to minimize their role in their remake and to drain them of ethnic/racial/national signifiers as much as possible.

It's not the Kong story I would tell, but I think Asmus builds on what DeVito did admirably enough, and with Magno they too present a people that are cryptic in terms of race, looking like a mish-mash of "native" cultures and drawn with physical features and clothing that make them impossible to place. They seem to be people of color, but they don't look black, like the people of the original film. They could be the original people who lived in the continents of North and South America, or perhaps from some island in the pacific (um, which they technically are, I guess).

As a white guy, I know I'm not particularly well-equipped to speak on this aspect of the narrative, which, as I said of the original film was pretty damn problematic (i.e. racist, but hard to eliminate completely from the basic King Kong story). Is the best way to deal with it to make the people who live on an island in the Pacific look more like Pacific Islanders than like African-Americans playing Hollywood's 1930s definition of "natives," who in the film had African signifiers...? Or is taking almost all of the black folk from King Kong and making them explicitly not black folk a form of erasure...?

God, I don't know. I wouldn't wanna have to be in the position to make these potentially fraught decisions, though. I suppose that it is now a native woman rather than a blonde-haired white girl from America who is the human star is a bit of an improvement, right?

I...didn't mean to get hung up on the race or the provenance of this particular comic book series.

Is it good...? Eh, it's not bad. It's certainly well made. It has some giant gorillas, and we see them fighting one another, an fighting dinosaurs. But we don't see enough of that, and the title seems a bit misleading, at least so far, as this is more People And Kongs Of Some Island than Kong of Skull Island.

As I mentioned on the blog after first reading Weta Workshop's 2005 The World of Kong: A Natural History of Skull Island, that was chock-full of information about the creatures of Skull Island--many, many, many more than actually appeared in the film--and it read a little like a source book upon which a shared universe setting for future films or novels or comic book series could be set. Hell, the text even suggested the events of prequels and sequels.

But that was tied to a different extrapolation of the King Kong film, the previous remake. This is set in  DeVito's particular extrapolation and, thus far at least, it's dealing with the least interesting parts of his extrapolation of the original: The origin of the Kongs and the peopling of Skull Island. It drains some of the power out of the original film, while dwelling on those parts (For example, that big wall wasn't to keep King Kong locked up in the jungle, but to keep his ancestors safe from dinosaurs, I guess? And the people who worshiped him as a god didn't just find him and acknowledge his mastery of their small island world, but they used to raise his species like cattle?).

Magno's art is top-notch, though, and there are plenty of cool variant covers included, my favorite being from a pair of artists who I wouldn't normally think of as guys I'd like to seek out to see how they would draw King Kong: Stan Sakai and Paul Pope.***

*Although this story specifically references the events of "Blackest Night," which occurred pre-Flashpoint, in a continuity where Batman worked with all four Lanterns for long periods of time on various iterations of the Justice League. Reboot or don't reboot, goddammit! Quit trying to have it both ways!

**I wrote about the book, and the next Kong-related book I mention in the above post, in 2013 here, if you are interested. Re-reading the post myself now, I see that I had noted at the time that a comic book adaptation of DeVito's novel would have been potentially difficult to pull off successfully. I think I was wright, too!

***Well, actually, I would personally like to see how every artist draws King Kong, but those aren't two guys who come immediately to mind when I think giant gorillas, you know?

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