Thursday, March 30, 2017

Comic Shop Comics: March 29th

Harley's Little Black Book #6 (DC Comics) Like the previous issue, an homage to the classic Superman Vs. Muhammad Ali that was drawn by that comic's original artist Neal Adams, this issue's team-up with Lobo was assigned to Simon Bisley, the artist of the first two Lobo miniseries and some of the better one-shots and specials of the early 1990s. You couldn't ask for a better pairing of character and creator, really, and as a fan of Bisley's work, it was nice to see DC finally finding a good showcase for it after handing him only some pretty minor work in the past five or six years (the covers of the first volume of the New 52 Deathstroke comic, a Midnighter/Apollo short story).

Unfortunately, Bisley's heavy metal, British comics aesthetic is overshadowed by some extremely questionable editing of the material. Regular Harley Quinn writers Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti have constructed a plot that involves the two white-skinned maniacs being naked or semi-naked for the majority of the 38-page comic. Harley loses her gear and her garb on a spaceship when it undergoes explosive decompression, stripping her down to just her bra and panties. Accidentally rescued by Lobo on a critically damaged space motorcycle, she loses even her bra on when it burn up on re-entry, while he loses most of his clothes and a whole bunch of his flesh. She fashions a makeshift bra of two large leaves, and he makes a loincloth of what's left of his pants, but it's basically the Blue Lagoon on a harsh alien planet for the rest of the book.

That's all well and good. The comic is rated "T+" ("Appropriate for readers age 15 and older. May contain moderate violence, mild profanity, graphic imagery and/or suggestive themes."), and it plays to the Conner/Palmiotti interpretation of the Harley character, and to Bisley's strength of drawing cartoonishly-proportioned muscular men and buxom women (while also mining a never-before explored attraction between the two characters, who are here meeting for the first time*, which actually makes a great deal of sense--Harley's type is, after all, chalk white-skinned and prone to acts of mass slaughter). But DC apparently didn't care for the art as drawn, and rather than insisting Bisley re-draw it or carefully re-coloring it, they decided to insert these weird, clip-art looking anthropormorphic red flags.

Most of the them seem unnecessary, appearing over images of Harley's bare ass (The title of this story, by the way, is "Bare-Assed and Belligerent"). One appears over what would have been her bikini area from the front, although given it is an extreme long-shot of her, I can't imagine there was any more detail than a v-shape where her legs met her hips, which is basically the same sort of Barbie doll nudity in any manga with a similar rating showing "nudity." One is where Lobo's penis would be. And, amusing, two of them are over the backside of Lobo's bulldog Dawg, so I'm assuming Bisley drew testicles on the dog, which couldn't be shown.

There is so much that is so weird about this, but what confounds me is that I have to imagine most of the nudity would actually be okay under that rating (maybe not Lobo's flaccid penis), and that DC's attempts to self-censor isn't even, like, funny, in the way that say, black bars, bars reading something like "Censored!" or the placement of, like, the Vertigo logo or something over the offending parts of the images might (I'm thinking here of that one scene early in the Mark Fraction/David Aja Hawkeye run where Clint jumps out of bed naked and into an action scene, and his crotch is covered with a big image of Silver Age Hawkeye's head).

I have to assume that not only would simply have changing the rating to M ("Appropriate for readers age 17 and older. May contain intense violence, extensive profanity, nudity, sexual themes and other content suitable only for older readers.") have been an easier fix (you only have to change a little of the fine print on the cover), it would have looked better, and not drawn attention to an aspect of the comic they were apparently trying to actively avoid.

As for that comic, it certainly plays to Bisley's strengths. His Harley is pretty great, only we only see her in her traditional garb on his variant cover and a few of the first pages, in which she accidentally releases and kills all the prisoners of an intergalactic bounty hunter.
His design for Lobo's spaceship is pretty fantastic. It's shaped a bit like an erect penis, with two giant round engines beneath a long, phallic ship, which terminates in a clenched fist, giant skulls where the knuckles would be, an an outstretched skeleton hand giving the finger as a hood ornament. His motorcycle is here basically a big angry face with a seat and engine attached.

The book is full of weird, scary, Bisley-looking aliens--humanoid and monstrous--and cartoonishly colorful rival bounty-hunters. It's really too bad that what it is most likely going to be remembered for is the clip-art cartoon flags covering up parts of a half-dozen or so of his panels. Hopefully Bisley's not too upset about it, or whatever arguments must have gone on behind-the-scenes, because I'd love to see him doing more interior work on comics and characters that compliment his strengths in the future for DC.

Jughead: The Hunger (Archie Comics) The fledgling, delay-plagued "Archie Horror" line returns for a one-shot with a pretty simple premise founded on basicall a single joke. You know how Jughead is always eating a lot, especially meat? What if it it was because...he was a werewolf?! And that's basically all this 41-page/$4.99 Frank Tieri and Michael Walsh comic is.

A serial killer nicknamed The Riverdale Ripper is ripping up Riverdale residents, with Ms. Grundy getting decapitated in an opening, three-page sequence. The Ripper is, as all of the covers reveal, really Jughead Jones, who is a werewolf. There's a back-story delivered in a sequence that covers a two-page spread, which basically amounts to an ancient Jones family curse...which the Cooper family has combated over the centuries, with Betty being the latest of the Cooper family werewolf-hunters (In fact, being friends with Archie, Jughead and the gang was only her cover for being nearby if and when he turned).

The shock value of the Riverdale gang in a straight-up horror narrative like this will likely have worn off, and I imagine after you watch, say, half an episode of the TV show Riverdale it will be hard to find the pairing of the innocent, all-American teens with anything subversive all that shocking any more. Unlike, say, Archie Vs. Predator, the artwork here is in the style of the new Riverdale line of comics, with Michael Walsh and Dee Cunniffe's coloring of Walsh's artwork aligning it visually with Afterlife With Archie. Unlike Afterlife..., however, the only "Mature Content" is the violence, as opposed to sex, incest and so on.

It is very well-made though, particularly on the visual side of things. Walsh draws great werewolves, in the Bernie Wrightson model (wolf heads, man-like torsos, "backwards" wolf legs). His Jugwolf has long, creepy arms, and his transformation sequences are particularly cool, with Walsh drawing the limbs particularly fluid, and Tieri and letter Morelli filling them with lots of cringey sound effects.

At this point, Archie Horror has certainly lost some punch as a genre, but that's the fault of the context, not this comic, which is a perfectly decent one-shot horror story with effective artwork. (Rich Tommaso's She Wolf is still the best werewolf comic you're going to find in the comic shop these days, though).

Justice League of America #3 (DC) Hey look,, it's Lobo again! I hope you don't buy this comic specifically for how gory Ivan Reis' cover featuring Lobo fighting Sabretooth Tracer is, as their battle inside the book is decidedly less bloody and brutal (although Lobo does put out his cigar in Tracer's eye).

Writer Steve Orlando continues his kinda head-scratching story of Batman's new earthbound, heroes-of-the-people Justice League battling The Extremists, DC's old team of extra-dimensional villains based on various, usually quite obvious Marvel villains, to liberate a fictional European country from them...even though it seems like their leader, Doctor Doom Lord Havok is taking that country and it's various fictional neighbors over more-or-less fair and square (also, the League is usually kind hands-off when it comes to international politics; this is about the time Superman and the other Justice League should show up to kick Batman's team out).

The idea here is that they are just there to even the odds, removing the super-people from the equation so that the people of the fake country can retake it for themselves. This is problematic, as Batman's no-killing policy doesn't really work in warzones, where regular human soldiers with guns are shooting at other regular human soldiers with guns.

This issue, drawn by pencil artist Diogenes Neves and inked by Ruy Jose and Marc Deering, is broken into mostly one-on-one confrontations between Leaguers and Extremists, with some (like Lobo and Black Canary) fighting their opponents, while others (like They Ray, and Killer Frost and The Atom) attempt to talk it out with theirs. The climax is pretty nonsensical. I had to read the penultimate page a few times to make sense of what exactly happened, but it ends with Batman holding a glowing red shield with the word "Liberty" and the face of Miss Liberty on it. I guess that post-Flashpoint, there was no Golden Age of superheroes, but there were superheroes in the late 18th century...?

Reggie And Me #4 (Archie) Reggie Mantle's machinations finally come to a climax and, man, his plan is so dumb! He steals Archie's phone, sends Midge a bunch of texts from it and essentially acts as a stalker, and then, through the phone, tells Midge to meet him (i.e. the mysterious stalker) under the bleachers at night (which she does, apparently unafraid of being raped or murdered or even just having an incredibly awkward conversation with a nutcase), he tells Archie to find his phone under the bleachers, he tells Moose that Midge's stalker will be under the bleachers and he calls and speaks to Mr. Weatherbee, telling him there will be a fight under the bleachers. They all show up at the appointed time, and while Reggie expects Moose to attack Archie and Weatherbee to expel them both from school, instead the obvious thing happens: They all just immediately sort things out. It was not a very good plan at all, Reggie!

There is a horribly dramatic, if nakedly manipulative, clliffhanger at the end though, one that has me really rather worried, as it would explain why there's a "To Be Concluded!" tag. I can't wait for the next issue, but only because I can't wait to be reassured that everything is going to be all right.

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