Sunday, February 12, 2017

Comic Shop Comics: February 8th

All-Star Batman #7 (DC Comics) I suppose I wasn't paying close enough attention to the solicitations, but I thought "Ends of The Earth" would be a Mister Freeze story arc in the same way that "My Own Worst Enemy" was a Two-Face arc. Instead, this issue follows on the events of last issue's first chapter of "Ends of The Earth," but Mister Freeze's part in the story seems to be over, and this issue's focus falls on Poison Ivy.

So if the first story arc featured a bunch of Batman villains basically crashing into and getting thrown out of a story focusing on Batman's struggle against Two-Face and The (KG)Beast, then perhaps this story arc will feature a bunch of Batman villains one at a time, each one getting the focus of an entire issue (Well, not counting the back-up, of course).

For this issue, writer Scott Snyder is joined by Supreme Blue Rose artist Tula Lotay, who is extremely talented, even if she might not meet the same definition of "All-Star" as established by previous lead story artists John Romita Jr and Jock (Although I suppose you could make the argument that Jock doesn't quite meet the definition of "All-Star" established by JRJR in terms of longevity, success and body of work, so maybe we should just agree that "All-Star" is going to be used rather relatively in this series). Regardless, I suppose collaborating with Scott Snyder on a Batman comic book should go a long way towards elevating her status.

I am personally torn on her artwork. It is very good, and tells the story rather effectively and efficiently. I wasn't crazy about her Ivy redesign, which includes a green leotard and sorta silly wedge-heeled boots, all of which have what look more like reptilian scales than leaves (The version on the cover, which is more evocative of an Ivy of the "No Man's Land"/"Hush" Era, is merely an expressionistic suggestion of the character within). She does give Ivy some vaguely Furiosa-like eye make-up, which looks pretty cool.

Beyond that, Lotay seems to use computers in certain panels to capture a particular tree and the paramilitary organization that is stalking Batman (which, unless Snyder is re-inventing them drastically, seems to be in keeping with the New 52 version, who had their own, extremely short-lived title; in fact, theirs was among the very first cancellations of the initial 52, if I'm remembering correctly).

So between issues #6 and #7, the prehistoric bacteria that Mister Freeze was trying to unleash on the world that Batman thought he had eradicated seemed to have escaped after all, and shown up in Washington state. He hunts down Poison Ivy for her scientific expertise (this, by the way, is the second issue in a row in which Batman encounters one of his villains who is a fallen scientist; next issue features The Mad Hatter; depending on the continuity, all three were also people who worked for Wayne until they had accidents and/or falling outs).

Batman and Poison Ivy try to manipulate one another at the base of a special tree in Death Valley that Snyder writes so convincingly about I can't tell if it and its kind or real or not. Then the paramilitary types, which look like photographs of real soldiers run through computer filters and inserted into Lotay's layouts, attack. Getting what he needs, Batman moves on to save the world, leaving Ivy free...although she's been recently portrayed as less a psychopathic murderess and more of a Catwoman-type bad guy-gone-good type more and more frequently.

There were some neat little details in here, like the fact that Ivy apparently only eats meat and water which...well, I'm not a nutritionalist, but she looks pretty good for having such a shitty diet. Hopefully she doesn't die of a heart attack or colon cancer in her mid-forties.

The back-up story, another chapter of the Duke Thomas-starring storyline, is illustrated by Francesco Francavilla again. Interestingly, Duke says he's been at his training, which began in Batman: Rebirth #1, almost a year now. Time flies in the Batman books! Taken altogether, it would appear that at least three, but more likely four years have passed since the launch of the New 52 line (in-comic, anyway), and that therefore Batman and his peers in the Justice League have already been at it 8-9 years. They are therefore only about a year away from the 10-year-time line of the Modern Age of Heroes (kicked off by Superman's debut) established in Zero Hour!

Deathstroke #12 (DC) After last issue's meditation on gun violence and Creeper crossover, writer Christopher Priest returns to the complicated, multi-thread storytelling that has mostly characterized this book so far, in which Slade Wilson and his children's sometimes parallel but regularly-intersecting narratives eat up the many-paneled lay-outs.

In this issue Raptor, a character introduced in the first Rebirth-ed Nightwing story arc "Better Than Batman" appears, and his facing off against Slade accounts for the cliffhanger ending. The art in this issue is from pencil artist Joe Bennett, inker Mark Morales and colorist Jeromy Cox. It's all as clear as a bell, even if it obviously lacks the weird, jittery energy of last issue's collaboration by Denys Cowan and Bill Sienkiewicz. Sienkiewicz is back for the (well, a) cover this time, though.

Detective Comics #950 (DC) This is a big, over-sized anniversary special of sorts, now that DC has adopted the Marvel strategy of switching back and forth between rebooted numbering and the old numbering on at Action Comics and Detective. Surprisingly, hell, shockingly, there is a gigantic surprise appearance on the last page of a DC comic that was released on February 8th this week that relates directly to Detective Comics, and that last page is not in this issue but, instead, in New Super-Man (Comics Alliance has a spoiler on the matter, if you have no idea what I'm talking about*).

So what is Detective Comics doing to mark its 950th issue? Well, it is, as the cover announces, an "Oversize Anniversary Special!", a $3.99/38-page book featuring a trio of stories all written by James Tynion IV and starring various members of the current Detective Comics cast.

The first of these is "League of Shadows Prologue: Shadow of a Tear," drawn by Marcio Takara. This is apparently the prologue to the next big Detective Comics story arc, the League of Shadows being the threat that Batwoman's dad's weird, Batman-based splinter group of the U.S. military was formed specifically to fight, even though Batman and friends didn't believe the League of Shadows even existed. Hey, how ironic would it be if they did exist? (And given that the next story arc will be called "League of Shadows" I'm pretty sure that means they do.) Batman didn't believe the Court of Owls really existed either, and they totally did! The World's Greatest Detective really isn't all that great at figuring out whether or not shadowy organizations that people tell him exist really do exist or not!

This is basically a Cassandra Cain solo story, as we follow her through much of a night and are privy to her thoughts, as told to us via third-person narration in the narration boxes. She stalks a ballerina, as this new Cassandra is a fan of dance since it is a sort of language based on the movement of the human body that doesn't involve violence, she beats up some bad guys, she visits Harper, Batman, and passes by Clayface, Batwing, Azrael and Batwoman, and then retreats to what I guess is her apartment, and we see she is being watched by someone who understands her: Lady Shiva!

Takara's art is great, but may in fact be too good, as it really accentuates just how clunky Cassandra's new costume really is in certain panels. Really, the shoulder-pads and other bits of armor need to go. If her whole deal remains that she's this phenomenal, un-hit-able, invincible fighting machine, then why does she need armor? I suppose the designer just wanted to break up the black blob of the costume with bits of color (here a golden, metallic yellow), but it doesn't look very good, and doesn't really fit with the character. I think if she's drawn well enough, as she obviously is here, then she doesn't need any decoration. The well-drawn human form is a great enough design on its own, and the all-black costume and the featureless, pupil-less white eyes on the mask are more than fantastical enough to make the look pop as a costume.

There are a few moments in this story, in which we are told how much Batman means to her and how much she looks up to and relates to Batwoman, which did give me a glimmer of hope that she might return to a more Batgirl-like costume at some point, and re-adopt "Black Bat" instead of "Orphan."

That 24-page story is followed by the 10-page "Higher Powers," drawn by pencil artist Alvaro Martinez and inker Raul Fernandez. In it, Azrael and Batwing fight Sentinels in their version of the Danger Room, which is probably taking the borrowed-from-the-X-Men nature of "The Mud Room" a little far. They debate about the existence of God, and talk science and religion for a while. I'm somewhat curious about the new, post-Flashpoint take on the Order of St. Dumas, which is much, much weirder than the original, but it has yet to be presented in anything approaching an palatable fashion, as Tynion (and a few other writers here and there) have mostly just thrown details at us in the midst of other storylines more focused on and interested in other aspects of the story. It should go without saying that in a reboot-less DCU, where Jean-Paul Valley and Azrael had actual history and relationships with many of these characters, and the The Order was an established presence, this would make a lot more sense, and his presence on this little Justice League of Gotham would be more compelling.

Finally, Tynion and artist Eddy Barrows and Eber Ferreira present a four-page story sent before Red Robin's "death," in which Tim Drake basically just pulls Batman aside and tells him he's figured out what he's doing, how he's manipulating his allies into various places of influence or power and assembling various teams--"And what's next? Your own private Justice League?" Tim asks--and the climax of the short story is simply Tim asking, "Why are you preparing for war?"

In answer, Batman frowns and a tag along the bottom reads "DARK DAYS are coming - 2017." Is that a Batman-specific thing, or a reference to whatever is going on in the DCU at present, the long, slow build-up to whatever Watchmen-related shenanigans have been teased since DC Universe: Rebirth (mostly in the pages of the Superman books, but here and there throughout the line)...?

I don't know.

Empowered and The Soldier of Love #1 (Dark Horse Comics) This is something new for Adam Warren's Empowered. For years he's collaborated on different artists for between-volumes Empowered one-shots, scripting them and drawing the covers and recap page while his collaborators handled the interior art work.

This is similar, but it's not exactly that. Instead, it's a three-issue miniseries written by Warren, and featuring both interior and cover art by Karla Diaz. There are two pages of back-matter combining prose from Warren and sketches from Diaz explaining how the project came about, exactly.

No sooner does a young, Spanish-speaking woman show up in town, than things start going pretty weird among the supehero community. Two heroes are caught hooking up by TMZ CMZ, and one of their significant others goes on a drinking and crying jag downtown, while he is the size of a size-scraper. Three other heroes are hooking up in a stall together during karoke night. At Superhomey's HQ, most of the team is too busy texting and sexting to even pay attention to another disaster involving heroes hooking up, and when Captain Rivet and Empowered head to the Homeycar, they find it rocking, as two of the members are inside, making it go KREEK KREEK KREEK.

It doesn't take long--well, only the entire issue, so maybe it does take kind of long--for Empowered and her gal pal Ninjette to realize that all this rampant shipping is coordinated. "This isn't just a coincidence, this is an attack!"

The perpetrator? The lady in the militant version of a magical girl costume on the front, naturally, the so-called Soldier of Love (or Solado del Amor), who appears to be causing this chaos with some combination of pink, heart-shaped fire-arms or perhaps the pink smoke emanating from her vape thingee. She also has a cute talking sidekick, Mr. Pangolin, a pink, um, pangolin with a bowtie.

Yes, it is awesome.

Adam Warren comics don't always feel right when he's not drawing them himself, given how much of his overall body of work is both written and drawn by Warren, but the pleasures of his writing, particular that of the his pun-filled superhero piss-taking Empowered scripts, are all in clear evidence. Additionally, Diaz's art, while extremely different, seemingly shares at least one similar point of inspiration in anime and manga. So the art has that in common with Warren's, while also looking completely different. This is the first tie I've seen her art, but I'm hoping it won't be the last time; she's really amazing.

The series is also in full-color, it's probably worth noting, something not new to these short-and-stapled Emp books, but still overall unusual among the vast page count of Warren's overall Empowered epic. Of course, it would almost have to be in color, also by Diaz, because there is just so much pink in it.

If you've never tried Empowered, this is probably a pretty good place to try it. One of the one-shots might have been even better, but, on the other hand, this three-issue $3.99/26-page series has a scope bigger than the one-shots but not as big as the first volume of Empowered.

Gotham Academy: Second Semester #6 (DC) We're still telling the "Second Semester" story arc (the title of the story in this book, which itself is entitled Gotham Academy: Second Semester, read "Second Semester Part 5" this issue), and it's still probably the first time in a long time that Gotham Academy felt like the book it was selling itself as. That fact makes me wonder and worry how much longer it has left before cancellation.

Together and apart, various combinations of the members of Detective Club are running around the Academy grounds with a map, trying to solve various mysteries, aspects of which go back to the very first issue, when it was still just Gotham Academy. It's good stuff. I hope it sticks around. If not, um, read it while you still can...?

Justice League of America: Rebirth #1 (DC) So the precise premise of this series is, as far as I understand it, that writer Steve Orlando really wanted to write a Justice League comic, but DC didn't want to take Justice League away from writer Bryan Hitch (even though it is not very good, and Hitch is not very good at writing Justice League comics)...or, perhaps, that Orlando wanted to write a Justice League comic with a different line-up than the one that has barely changed at all over the last 5+ years, but DC wanted to keep that line-up in place, as it is the one that will be starring in their upcoming, awful-looking Justice League movie.

The solution? Another Justice League book, this one just plain old randomly called Justice League of America for no reason apparent in the one-shot special that will presumably lead in to the actual first issue. (DC's already used Justice League of America for a short-lived book in the New 52-iverse, one that had the advantage of starring a team put together specifically to work on behalf of the United States government; they also randomly used the title JLA, for the ongoing-turned-miniseries by Hitch that preceded his take over of the main League book following Geoff Johns' departure).

But the book will of course need an in-story premise offered, too, since Batman kinda sorta needs an excuse to just go set up a second Justice League for no reason, and the one Orlando settles on here doesn't sound too terribly convincing. Here's Batman's pitch to Black Canary, who I guess commutes between Seattle and Gotham City so she can be in both Green Arrow and Batgirl and The Birds of Prey: "I've started something new. A different team. Mortal. Not gods."

Later, The Atom Ryan Choi goes to recruit The Ray and tells him that Batman is building a team, and says: "People need heroes like them. Human."

This line-up--Batman, Lobo, The Ray, Black Canary, The Atom, Killer Frost and Vixen--don't seem to fit the bill for that type of team. Like, at all. While Batman is mortal and human, and I suppose an argument could be made for The Atom, a regular guy who uses a super-tool to access powers, and Vixen, ditto, it's not exactly a regular joe, person-on-the-street, non-godlike, team, you now? You've got Batman and six metahumans, which is pretty much the make-up of his last League at the outset of The New 52 (I guess one could parse whether or not Green Lanterns count as metahuman or not, since Hal Jordan, Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz are just regular people with extraordinary weaponry on their fingers). It doesn't seem like it would be too hard for Batman to assemble a team of non-meta-humans if he really wanted to--actually, he's already got two if you count The Club of Heroes/Batman Inc and whatever he calls his team in Detective Comics.

He offers a somewhat different explanation to Killer Frost, his first recruit, when he tells her that she inspired him by telling him that "everyone deserves a chance," and he hopes to offer a group of people a fresh start. A chance to be a hero. And, there are a few points in these 20 pages where it's noted that something in particular is coming, and this is a team meant to deal specifically with that something.

This issue follows on the events of Justice League Vs. Suicide Squad, which is where Killer Frost redeemed herself and where this version of Lobo was reintegrated into the post-Flashpoint DCU, and a few mostly unnecessary one-shot specials telling the slightly tweaked new origins of Vixen, The Ray, Killer Frost and The Atom. I honestly don't think any of them are too terribly necessary to make sense of what is going on here.

Batman takes Killer Frost to a mysterious old cave in Happy Harbor, Rhode Island, which is where the original Justice League met...pre-Flashpoint, anyway. (Batman talks about the place in vague terms, calling it a "relic" and "a remnant of a bygone era.") They then go about recruiting their team, with one person approaching the next in order to convince them to join, with Batman sometimes tagging along. So Killer Frost and Batman recruit Black Canary; Canary recruits Lobo (who Batman kinda sorta semi-tricked into joining a League at the end of JLvSS, a series I plan to review in typically excrutiating detail in the not-too-distant future); Batman and Lobo go looking for Ray Palmer and recruit Ryan Choi instead (Ugh, have I mentioned lately how much I hate how nonsensical the post-Flashpoint Ray Palmer/Atom continuity is?); Choi recruits The Ray (whose helmet I dislike as drawn here by artist Ivan Reis, although it might just be a coloring choice or mistake); Batman recruits Vixen, and then they all pose for a group shot in which Batman reveals their name without explanation.

Reis and inkers Joe Prado and Oclair Albert, both of whom he's worked with extensively before, do a pretty great job. They can do this stuff in their sleep, at this point, really. I'm not crazy about The Ray's costume tweaks, and kinda hate the various costumes we've seen The Atom in so far. I'm also not a fan of how they illustrate Vixen's powers, but I think I've noted before that her powers are really hard to illustrate, and I don't think I've ever seen them depicted in a way that I thought felt quite right to me. Just a personal hang-up, I know.

All in all, there's not a whole lot to this book, it's just a quick, efficient getting-the-team-together book, but it's an interesting team full of interesting characters--far more so than the other, main Justice League book of the moment--so I'm interested in following it for a while.

I should probably also note that it ends with a page of four teaser panels, with a "Coming Up In Justice League of America!" box in the upper right-hand corner. Of these, some aren't terribly exciting--Lobo will fight a teammate, if you can believe it, while Choi will find Palmer--but I did like the fact that Batman seems to be facing off against Lady Liberty or, more likely, using a shield with her face on it for some reason (the placement of the balloon tail makes it seem like someone other than Liberty is doing the talking). I guess we'll see.

Still not sure why this isn't called Batman and The Outsiders though, to be honest...

Justice League/Power Rangers #2 (Boom Studios) In this issue, the rest of the (a?) League show up to rescue Batman from The Pink Ranger's Pterodactyl Dinozord: Superman, Green Lantern John Stewart, Cyborg and Wonder Woman. After some light combat, everyone figures out that it was all basically a misunderstanding, brought about by how damn villainous Batman looks and acts.

I'm pretty sure this entire series is worth it for this line of dialogue alone:
Honestly, the most fun parts of the series have been those in which the Justice Leaguers react to the more, um, stylized actions of the Rangers, which are, of course, perfectly natural in their own, home narrative. So the bits where Superman knocks on the Pink Ranger's zord cockpit and says "I'm going to have to ask you to land your pterodactyl," for example, or when The Flash witnesses the Rangers summon their Dinozords in disbelief (I kinda wish artist Stephen Byrne would have spent the double-page spread of that sequence more faithfully recreating how that scene might have played on the TV show, for maximum narrative clash).

Unfortunately, the series can no more be the Justice League smashing up Dinozords than it could be The Pink Ranger becoming Batman's new sidekick (Pink Robin, naturally), and so after about half a book's worth of fighting based on misunderstanding, we cut to Brainiac teaming up with Lord Zedd. The firs step in their plan? Send giant space octopuses to four cities around the globe, where they immediately begin wreaking havoc.

Magical Character Rabbit (Alternative Comics) I'll be 100% honest, Kinoko Evans' story didn't do a whole lot for me. There aren't a whole lot in the way of jokes, nor is the conflict too terribly engaging. No matter though, Evans' character design is adorable, her page construction, lettering and coloring perfect and her storytelling on point. This is a super-fun comic to look at, to read, to spend time with. Even if there was something of a cotton candy element to it, wherein it evaporated almost immediately upon consumption, leaving me with a pleasant enough sensation and a fond memory, but nothing substantial. If you like fun and cute drawings of fun and cute stuff, check it out; it is also all-ages, so it's probably a pretty good comic to share with some particularly short people of your acquaintance.

Suicide Squad #11 (DC) Well, now that Justice League Vs. Suicide Squad is totally over, including the not-really-an epilogue to it that filled the previous issue of this series, Suicide Squad resumes its weird-ass format of a 12-page lead story and an eight-page back-up story. I assumed that this was in part to accommodate the schedule of Jim Lee, who was drawing the 12-pagers for a while, and was only going to be something the book engaged in for its first few months, as the back-ups were all dedicated to solo origin stories of each of the characters on the team. But here we are, with John Romita JR in for Lee, and the back-up is...just another part of the story...? It's really weird, frankly. At least the first run of split format issues had a degree of interior logic to them.

So, writer Rob Williams gives us "Burning Down The House" Part one, penciled by JRJR and inked by Richard Friend. The Squad is on the hunt for "The Annihilation Squad" from the first arc, which here involves a big action scene in Tibet. Meanwhile, Rustam is traveling the world, cutting people in half with his flaming scimitar and causing problems for Amanda Waller. On the last page, he releases the prisoners of Blackgate in Gotham, which is good; I do so love seeing JRJR draw the denizens of Gotham City.

He is a pretty perfect match for this material too, really. His figures have only gotten bigger, blockier and more powerful over the years, and are thus very well-suited to this particular group of amoral killers with superpowers. Additionally, the cold-weather setting allows him to bundle most of the characters up, so that Captain Boomerang, for example, wears a huge coat, and Harley Quinn wears...I don't know what. It looks a little like a Harley-themed football uniform, but with more padding and straps. JRJR's style is just cartoony enough too that when random soldiers get cut down, either by magic swords or giant crocodile men, it's not gross or gory, it's just paper figures ripping each other up.

It's a sever disappointment then to turn a page and find "Life Outside" by Eddy Barrows and Eber Ferreira, and a return to DC house style. In reaction to something from the first story arc, the Squad is given leave to go do fun stuff on the outside (Katana's cursed blade whispered "Shopping" to her over and over in one panel, while others complained of being worked too hard). A pretty big event happens here: Amanda Waller is shot in the chest by someone in a trench coat holding two handguns. In a sense, the previous pages are simply setting up suspects, with her temporary replacement Harcourt, Boomerang and Deadshot all being pushed pretty hard. I imagine it will end up being the one of the three who isn't on the cover every month, but hell, it could be anyone, I guess.

Wonder Woman #16 (DC) I don't much care for the chimera that show's up in this issue of Wonder Woman, if only because it looks sort of...plain, even generic. But what I found really weird about it is that it is drawn with a mane, like a male lion has. But Wonder Woman refers to the monster as a female repeatedly. Now, I'm no zoologist, and I know relatively little about sexual dimorphism in real animals, and chimeras are, let's not forget, totally not real. However, wouldn't it stand to reason that a female chimera would not have a mane on its lion head, in the same way that real female lions do not have manes...?

*I don't share Kieran Shiach's concerns, as writer Gene Luen Yang has won many awards for a graphic novel dealing with pretty much that exact subject matter, and said graphic novel was so well-received that it essentially launched his comics career, allowing him to further write about Asian identity in superhero comics in future books, including this one.


Jer said...

However, wouldn't it stand to reason that a female chimera would not have a mane on its lion head, in the same way that real female lions do not have manes...?

I was all ready to go on a rant about whether or not the Chimera would even have a gender given that it was the spawn of Typhon and Echidna - who's to say that the beast would even have anything remotely resembling gender since it would reproduce more like a Titan or a God than a lion or a goat. And that perhaps Diana was just using an Amazonism of using "her" as a "default" gender term the way in English people use "he" as a default (though that usage is changing). But then I went to Wikipedia to verify my facts and found this little snippet:

"The Chimera is generally considered to have been female (see the quotation from Hesiod above) despite the mane adorning her head, the inclusion of a close mane often was depicted on lionesses, but the ears always were visible (that does not occur with depictions of male lions)."

So there you go - the Greeks thought she was a female and pictured her with a mane anyway. So Rucka is just keeping his story in continuity with Hesiod and the rest.

Brian said...

Given the various elements of gender and sexuality at play in this WONDER WOMAN title so far, I'm just going to imagine that perhaps Rucka intended to quietly write a chimera who was born male and identifies as female – and Diana doesn't see how their fighting means she should quibble over pronouns.

Steve said...

I saw Yang give a talk about the history of Asian(-American) representation in superhero comics last fall, and he led off with the cover of Detective Comics #1 as an example of how bad things began. I have no doubt he knows exactly what he's doing.