Sunday, March 26, 2017

Comic Shop Comics: March 22nd

Action #976 (DC Comics) Sigh...

Okay, so in last week's penultimate chapter of "Superman Reborn," it was revealed that somehow Superman and Lois Lane were divided into Superman-Red and Lois-Red (The New 52 Superman and Lois) and Superman-Blue and Lois-Blue (the pre-Flashpoint, post-Convergence Superman and Lois). During the course of the issue, Superboy fused them together to make one Superman and one Lois.

And in this final issue, he does it again, apparently to drag out what was already confusing enough even longer. I guess when Superboy redirected the Red energy at his parents, it knocked the Blue out of them, and so much of this issue repeats events from the last issue, as the Reds struggle against Mr. Mxzyptlk until Superboy meets two orbs of blue energy, and fuses them with the Reds.

The mysterious Mr. Oz narrates what supposedly happens over a two-page spread featuring scenes from the pre-Flashpoint continuity and a few panels set after Clark and Lois' wedding dealing with Jonathan. "This changes everything," Oz says. "A new, existence-wide, single reality built from two."

During my first reading, I interpreted this to mean that the two distinct continuities of pre-Flashpoint and post-Flashpoint Superman were being melded so that both somehow happened, in the same hand-waving way that so much of post-Flashpoint continuity was meant to have happened (i.e. the five years that happened since the debut of Superman and all those #1 issues published in fall of 2011, the secret, implied continuity that was so full of blanks, only some of which got filled in during the years that followed).

But according to this piece on Comics Alliance, the pre-Flashpoint Superman continuity has overwritten that of The New 52 Superman, which isn't what I got from the story, but since writer Kieran Shiach quotes from a Comics Alliance interview with writers Dan Jurgens and Peter J. Tomasi, I assume that is indeed the correct reading.

That's actually pretty problematic, not to mention exhausting, as it gives us a reboot of one big chunk of the continuity, but not the whole shebang. This is like "Brand New Day" to the Marvel Universe then, as opposed to Crisis on Infinite Earths. Superman's continuity is not only re-written, but that renders large swathes of the post-Flashpoint continuity into that weird-ass gray area where the stuff involving Superman and/or Lois Lane happened, just differently than in the comics we read (Take, for example, all of the Justice League comics). The solution to the perceived problem, and here is the exhausting part, is more reboots. Gah!

I can't get very far when it comes to thinking about how the events of "Superman Reborn" actually impact the larger DC continuity, but I'm certainly glad I quit reading Superwoman almost immediately (The Superwomen apparently got their power from Superman-Red's death, remember).

While this story arc finally solves the Two Supermen and Two Lois Lane problems, after so much page-space of the "Rebirth" era's Superman and Action Comics were devoted to that very subject, both Mr. Mxyzptlk and Mr. Oz refer to "Him" ominously throughout. The last three panels have the "camera" move from the Earth, to the moon, and then over the moon to settle on Mars. Who is "Him"...? J'onn J'onnz?! Wait, no; that's where Watchmen's Doctor Manhattan, set up as the heavy in DC Universe: Rebirth, settled, huh? Whatever's coming then is, um, still coming.

Regular Action writer Dan Jurgens wrote this chapter, while occasional Superman pencil artist Doug Mahnke and a trio of inkers provided the artwork. I can't say I'm pleased with the story at this point, but I am glad its over, and I do kinda hope we can just move on from this business and collectively forget that so much of the New 52 even happened, I guess.

Oh! Wait! Does this mean Martha Kent is still alive, or not? Because she was pre-Flashpoint, and she wasn't post-Flashpoint...? Also, this rather unfortunately means one of the best parts of the New 52, the first few story arcs of Grant Morrison's Action Comics, never really "happened"...farewell T shirt and jeans, Superman!

Batman '66 Meets Wonder Woman '77 #3 (DC) After the bulk of two issues set in Batman's past (and the first season of the Wonder Woman TV show), this one is set in Batman's present (and therefore between the first and second season's of Wonder Woman). Batman and Robin convince Catwoman to be their "chaperone" as they journey to Paradise Island to warn its champion Wonder Woman that nefarious villains have their sites set on it. Those villains are Ra's al Ghul, his daughter Talia and some goons, who have come seeking a Lazarus Pit in the middle of a monster-filled maze on one the nearby islands.

While writers Jeff Parker and Marc Andreyko have a lot of fun with the Batman characters wandering around Paradise Island and, especially, Robin and Catwoman's reactions to what goes on all around them, the climax comes in their getting pencil artist David Hahn and inker Karl Kesel to draw Batman riding on a griffin. Really, that's what superhero comics are all about.

The griffin and a giant cyclops are the two monsters encountered, and are among the scenes in either the Batman '66 comics or the Wonder Woman '77 comics that would have been almost impossible to imagine happening on either show.

Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #5 (IDW Productions) The highlight of this issue Matthew K. Manning, Jon Sommariva and Sean Parson's crossover series, teaming-up the characters from Batman: The Animated Series with those of the current Nickelodeon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon (i.e. the good one), is a two-page, 16-panel sequence that inserts Robin and Michaelangelo (in a home-made Bat-mask) into that fantastic opening sequence to Batman: The Animated Series.

There's some other fun bits to this concluding (?) issue, like Batgirl meeting Ice Cream Kitty, but it's pretty hard to top that sequence. My only real complaint here is that when The Mad Hatter, who turned out to be the very unlikely final boss of the series, comes face to face with a teenage mutant ninja turtle, he merely says, "Are you a large... a large turtle man?" and makes no reference at all to The Mock Turtle from Alice's Adventures In Wonderland.

I have to admit to be pretty confused as to whether or not this actually is the last issue of the series or not. First, a five-issue miniseries is a really rather odd number for a comic book miniseries, and while this issue completely wraps up the conflict, ending with Batman, Robin and Batgirl scarfing pizza while posed atop a Gotham City skyscraper in their home universe, the epilogue features four-pages of The Scarecrow designing a new costume, the final panel showing us what he's come up with: The later costume with the noose around the neck he would adopt when the various Batman: The Animated Series characters all get redesigned. Then there's a little box reading "Not The End."

I would guess that means there are plans, or at least hopes, for a sequel to this series, in which the TMNT characters will meet the Batman: TAS redesigned characters, but then the next page is a full-page illustration saying "Next Month" and featuring The Kraang...and Batgirl in her redisigned costume and the Tim Drake version of Robin. So, I guess there is one more issue to go? Although, if that's the case, they probably shouldn't have had such a final feeling ending here, and used the word "epilogue"...

And what next? Will this be the last Batman/TMNT crossover...? I hope not, because we still haven't gotten what I most want out of such a crossover: To see a mess of old Mirage era artists drawing Batman, and a bunch of Batman artists drawing Ninja Turtles. I just so happen to have a great idea for a next, ultimate Batman/TMNT crossover, if anyone at IDW wants to get in touch with me. Sure, I've never written a comic book script I didn't draw and publish myself before, but I can do it, I swear!

Deathstroke #15 (DC) Okay, I have no idea what to make of this cover, which includes the tag "A Blind Assassin...", which is accurate, as Deathstroke is an assassin and he has lost his eyesight, albeit almost certainly temporarily, but goes on to say "...And His Hound of Death!", which, um, is not accurate. The only dog in this is apparently Power Girl's German shepherd, and he is not a hound of death, whatever the hell a hound of death is, exactly.

In this issue, still written by Priest (not Christopher Priest, just "Priest") and currently featuring art by Larry Hama (breakdowns), Carlo Pagulayan (pencils) and Jason Paz (inks), Power Girl and Dr. Villain examine Slade's eye-ball, while P.G. gives him a new and improved suit, and the pair of them go into action in order to stop a hit by Deadline, a fairly lame assassin whose main selling point was his Mister Miracle-style flying discs. He uses those to great effect here, and is lacking his dumb helmet, thus improving his design considerably.

In the final panel, Slade introduces himself as a new superhero, which was obviously pretty unexpected. I feel a little uncomfortable about him spending too much time around female teenage superheroines affiliated with the Titans, given his history, but I'm growing to like this new Power Girl; this is actually the longest I've read any story featuring her before.

Meanwhile, the various plotlines involving Slade's Shakespearean tragedy of a family continue. I really like this comic, although I've recently been told DC is going to raise the price of it by about 33%, which will mean I'll be dropping it soon, and I'm afraid that means a bunch of other people might too, and then it will get canceled.

Detective Comics #953 (DC) I'm a little reluctant to speak too harshly about this book, as I do like so many of the characters that appear in it (at least, I liked their pre-Flashpoint incarnations) and I do appreciate writer James Tynion IV's attempts to get the mangled-up versions of them in front of readers again, but there's no way around it: This comic is garbage.

In this issue, Cassandra Cain, who was Batgirl pre-Flashpoint and is Orphan post-Flashpoint, battles first Batman and then Lady Shiva, and both fights are very poorly choreographed and drawn. The previous Cassandra fought both characters in the pages of her own series, which DC has been re-collecting and re-publishing and I've been re-reading, and these fights are just terrible compared to every single fight scene in the Scott Peterson/Kelley Puckett/Damion Scott/Robert Campanella Batgirl.

Cassandra challenges Batman who wants to stop her from going after Lady Shiva. He says he refuses to fight her, but she fights him; so the "fight" is just Cassandra hitting him for a few pages, Batman not attempting to block or dodge, and Cassandra not attempting to evade or incapacitate him. In fact, her second move is some kind of claw strike aimed at his heart area, which somehow tears through all the armor this version of Batman wears and draws blood. Just go around him or KO him, Cass!

Then she confronts her mom Shiva, and this time Cass refuses to fight, so we get Shiva hitting her eight times before knocking her out and having her League of Shadows throw her into an open manhole. Artists Christian Duce and Fernando Blanco depict the majority of their fight by simply drawing their two figures on a white background, with no panels or borders, just a repetition of their figures, with Shiva striking Cass in unnatural ways that don't flow from one move to the next, each strike accompanied by a sound effect that Doug Moench never would have put in a kung fu fight ("Stomp"...? "Bump"...? What the hell, guys?).

Around the fights, the vague war of shadowy conspiracies continues, but I've actually officially lost the plot here. I think Shiva's groups, The League of Shadows, is/was a splinter group of Ra's al Ghul's League of Assassins; the former is in Gotham City to destroy it. They have stabbed and captured Batwing, Azrael and Batwoman. Batwoman's dad Jacob Kane had his own shadowy group, The Colony, stationed in Gotham to stop the Shadows, but Batman's team defeated them, and although there are apparently some still running around, they haven't gotten involved yet. On the final page, Ra's appears, presumably to ally himself with Batman. Guys, I am so sick of Ra's al Ghul! DC needs to start using him like they do The Joker; no more than one story every year or three.

Also, I thought the part where Clayface hands Cassandra the Collected Work of Shakespeare to comfort her as kind of funny, but only because the last time I read a comic book featuring her she couldn't yet read. I actually don't know if this Cass can or not. Oh, and oddly enough one of the groups of ninja assassins cuts Clayface into pieces and spreads him all over The Belfry. This happens off-panel, of course, saving Tynion from explaining how exactly you "kill" and/or hurt a shapeshifter made out of sentient clay he can control whether it is attached to his main mass or not with edged weapons.

I suppose this would have been slightly less infuriatingly poor had I not read the first 36-issues of Batgirl between reading Detective Comics #952 and this, but it's too late now!

Empowered and The Soldier of Love #2 (Dark Horse Comics) The Empowered one-shots Adam Warren occasionally writes between installments of Empowered always look and feel a little off, as they are in color rather than black-and-white, and most of Warren's characters tend to look really weird when not drawn by Warren himself (although, on the other hand, seeing a variety of non-Adam Warren artists draw those characters is also one of the most appealing aspects of the one-shots).

Well, this is different. Not only is this one-shot a miniseries, bu t artist Karla Diaz shares just enough of Warren's own sense of style and design that it looks Warren-esque without being Warren-ish, if that makes sense.

In this issue, we learn the origin of The Soldier of Love (well, if we speak Spanish we do, so I didn't catch the majority of it), while the only three capes not besotted by her powers--Empowered, Ninjette and Captain Rivet--continue to try and figure out what the hell is happening. The two title characters come face to face on the last pages.

Lumberjanes #36 (Boom Studios) The Lumberjanes defeat the sasquatches in the big roller derby match upon which this arc was built, despite the sasquatches decisive advantage in size, the death-traps accidentally activated around the track and Molly's lack of confidence of her skills. This would seem like a good place to end the arc then, right? After all, the conflicts introduced in the first chapter of the story have now all been resolved. But! There's a "To be continued" box in the very last panel of this issue, seemingly indicating that once again a Lumberjanes story arc is oddly paced, and likely to go on at least an issue longer than it needs to.

That aside, this was a pretty fun little story, and I really liked the way that the yetis decided to circumvent the conflict that the 'Janes had decided to try and resolve for them. Of course, I am fond of yetis, sasquatches and other cryptids, so am generally down with any comic book featuring such creatures, even if it does involve the boring sport of roller derby.

Scooby-Doo Team-Up #24 (DC) Not only is it great to see Martian Manhunter wearing his classic costume once again, I kind of love the confident smirk he has on Dario Brizuela's cover. J'onn actually looks like he's having fun for once!

While he is the main guest-star in artist Brizuela and writer Sholly Fisch's story "Out Of This World," he is but one of the DCU alien heroes to appear. Someone posing as J'onn has taken to the airwaves to declare war on Earth, urging his fellow aliens to rise up and help him overthrow humanity. This has lead to shadowy government agency The Persons In Plaid to start rounding up aliens, so J'onn approaches Mystery, Inc. to help solve the mystery on behalf of himself and the handful of alien allies yet to be captured: Jemm, Son of Saturn; Starman (Mikaal version, though there's a fantastic panel in which he explains to Fred which of the many, many Starmen he actually is), Starfire and Ultra, The Multi-Alien.

So this is another of the title's occasional category team-ups, where Scooby and the gang meet a whole category of DCU characters within the confines of a single issue. The heroes pretty obviously have the eventually revealed villain over-powered, but the conflict is really nothing more than an excuse to introduce a bunch of DC's cool, under-utilized alien characters and bolt jokes onto them, some of which are pretty good, like that Starman bit, or the look on J'onn's face when Fred tells him his full name is Fred Jones and "we J'ones Boys have to stick together!"

Suicide Squad #14 (DC) So the peculiar format of this volume of Suicide Squad, in which one artist draws most of the issue as one story, and then another artist draws the rest of the issue as another story, has completely broken down. Here the two stories aren't just different chapters of the same story, or two concurrent events told from different points-of-view. Here, it's just a narrative mess, with the stories overlapping and covering the same ground in what appears to have been a pretty garbled, pretty transparent attempt to pull a 20-page script into different sections for two different artists, almost at random.

I don't know if writer Rob Williams is still writing to this particular format, or if he and/or his editors are trying to rearrange his scripts to fit it, but it feels more like the latter at this point. Hopefully they'll get the book figured out soon, because this doesn't work, and I can't imagine they'll keep trying it for too much longer, based on how much it doesn't work here.

In "Burning Down The House" Part 4, penciled by John Romita Jr., Rustam and his Burning World team have attacked Washington D.C., with new recruit Deadshot in tow (although he pretty clearly seems to be a double agent). Meanwhile, Harley discovers the body of Hack, and after trying to rouse her fellow Squad members with a speech, she goes after the Burning World solo, getting shot by Deadshot in the process.

That's followed immediately by "Live Free. Die.", penciled by Eddy Barrows. This focuses on what the various Squad members were doing and thinking while Harley was trying to convince them to join her. Captain Boomerang was drinking a lot, and trying to commit suicide by Killer Croc, while The Enchantress plays with a giant snake that doesn't look like it should be in a Louisiana swamp at all (Barrows draws Croc at vastly different sizes, depending on the panel). Then they belatedly join Harley in attacking The Burning World, although obviously that's a beat what would belong in the "main" story if these are really meant to be parallel stories for some reason, and then Amanda Waller shows up, not dead and, again, that's a pretty big deal for the main story, not just the back-up.

Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe: The Movie (IDW) This is a welcome but unexpected return to the weird, weird world of Tom Scioli's Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe comic, and here it's all Scioli, without Editor/co-writer John Barber. This is Scioli's adaptation of a movie (that, unfortunately, does not actually exist) based on his comic book series, Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe. Does that...does that make sense? This is the comic based on the movie based on the comic, even though the movie is imaginary.

It's very existence is, of course, fun and slightly crazy, but it doesn't stand up to the source material, despite sharing a creator. Scioli has hyper-condensed his epic, so this moves super-fast, but in so doing he's also streamlined the cast to the sort of tiny casts of a handful of heroes and villains that have appeared in the live-action Transformers and G.I. Joe movies, and, for the most part, he's been forced to excise all of the spectacularly awesome moments from his comic, as they would just lose their impact here.

I should note that while this issue is big, it's not that big. At only 21 story pages, if it were adapting a movie, it would necessarily be doing so by leaving a lot of that movie out, and while Scioli does have some filmic moments, there are several elements that don't feel cinematic in the least, like the section narrated by Snake Eyes, via letters to his sister.

So Scarlet is the latest recruit to join G.I. Joe. Hawk and Flag send her with Duke, Snake Eyes, Roadblock and Stalker (and a few other Joes without lines) to Cybertron, where they ally themselves with Optimus Prime and the Autobots to fight an alliance between Cobra and The Decepticons. She has a special bond with Optimus Prime, bordering on the romantic. At one point, she wakes up in a hospital, where Dr. Venom is caring for her, and he explains that the entire war is just a delusion, based on nostalgic memories of TV cartoons from the 1980s (this was one of the more phenomenal issues of the actual comics series, here boiled down into just a few panels). She quotes part of the Voltron transformation sequence and becomes the Headmaster to a decapitated Optimus, the late Chris Latta-voiced Cobra Commander and Starscream team-up, and Destro, Snake-Eyes and Cobra Commander are all unamasked in rapid succession.

It has its moments, but just a few, and far fewer than in any given issue of the series it is kind sorta spun out of, really.

It's accompanied by a lot of back matter, some of it rather weird. There's a portion of an interview ith the actress who pays Scarlett in the movie, a feature on the special effects, another featuring the actor playing Optimus (who isn't just voicing him, as in the Michael Bay movies, but is here a guy in an Optimus Prime costume), commentary by Scioli on the events of the comic, ten pages of Scioli's 2014 sketch version of the comic and three-pages of pin-ups.

Wonder Woman #19 (DC) Wonder Woman gets hugged out of her delusions by a minotaur, Greg Rucka again reminds us that bull-headed man-monsters aren't technically "minotaurs" if they are not from Minos, something confusing is still going on with the Amazons, Rucka still insists on writing about Sasha Bordeaux, Maru shoots Wonder Woman through the chest which may or may not kill her (I guess not) and Liam Sharp is still very good at drawing.

I know that sounds like a lot of stuff, but it doesn't read like a lot of stuff. Wonder Woman has rather Rucka-ishly entered this phase where nothing seems to happen in individual issues, but only in aggregate, making this a good candidate for trade-waiting...were it not for the unusual publishing schedule, which argues in favor of serial issue reading.

The art is excellent, but the writing mediocre. That's better than bad, of course, but still not as good as good. I don't know. I'm going to keep reading it, but I'm also going to keep wishing it were better than it is.

1 comment:

Bram said...

Rucka is one of my favorite writers. And, other than his BATWOMAN run, which I maintain has just about everything you need to teach comics, his WFH superhero stuff has left me cold. Have you checked out LAZARUS or any of his other recent Image series? There's some top-notch, next-level comics storytelling going on there.