Thursday, March 09, 2017

Comic Shop Comics: March 8th

Action Comics #975 (DC Comics) First, let me say that I personally don't care about spoilers, and if you do, then you might just want to scroll down to the next comic book cover and start reading there. I'll try not to reveal the name of the character who has been posing as The Other Clark Kent for the last few months of Superman comics, but chances are I'll reveal the character anyway (I think DC's promotional material for the "Superman Reborn" storyline, of which this is the second chapter, did a pretty decent job of revealing anyway, presenting said character as one of four suspects).

This $3.99, 38-page comic is billed as a "Supersized Anniversary Issue," and contains two stories, although they bleed into one another in such a way that they're not too terribly distinct from one another. The first of these is a 20-pager by the regular Action Comics writer Dan Jugens and one of the two regular Superman pencil artists, Doug Mahnke (Jaime Mendoza inks). As we saw in last week's part one, something strange happened at the Kents' farm, and Lois and Clark's son Jon dissolved before their eyes, seemingly somehow abducted by The Other Clark Kent.

Here, the two pissed-off parents storm Other Clark's apartment, where they are confronted by the strangely powerful Clark, who demands to know why they have forgotten about him and why Superman never saved him (tying this into the DC Universe: Rebirth/Something To Do With The Characters From Watchmen plot, the previous chapter showed Mr. Oz finding an empty, gigantic cell covered in child-like, Superman-obsessed graffiti. Other Clark, like Doomsday and Tim Drake, have been captives of Mr. Oz for a while now).

This being a superhero comic, a fight breaks out, with Other Clark running through a checklist of Superman villains, demanding that Superman guess who he really is or, in other words, to say his name. These are all basically splash pages with two small inset panels in each, which is a bit of a waste of your comic book real estate but, on the other hand, they do give Mahnke the opportunity to draw pin-up style fights between Superman and members of his rogue's gallery: Lex Luthor, Bizarro, Brainiac, Mongul, Parasite, Cyborg Superman, Doomsday and, of course, the real culprit, who you will likely have guessed by now if you haven't been reading.

He is pretty clearly in his pre-Flashpoint form, despite at least one major appearance in the New 52 Superman books, one in which he essentially drove the action of that book, which, in retrospect, makes me kind of wish he wasn't used since Flashpoint at all, as it would make the reboots and changes make a little more sense. This is perhaps one of the few, pre-existing, totally-part-of-the-mythos characters who coul have easily done or undone any reboots at a whim.

Jurgens writes him as particularly menacing, a result of his disappointment in Superman for failing to save him, or even notice he was missing, and he's blaming Jon, who he plans to make everyone in the world forget (In fact, the last panel is Lois looking at Superman and saying "...Jon who?").

I have a couple of concerns about this character's usage. First, as I've said, we've already seen him in the New 52, and he was therefore subject to the reality-warping apparently instigated by Pandora...and/or Dr. Manhattan, retroactively, I guess. As a completely meta-character, a few dimensions higher than these characters (and one higher than us ourselves here in the real world/Earth-Prime), it's hard to imagine who or what Pandora and/or Doctor Manhattan would be that their time-stream/multiversal merging could even affect him.

Second, who could Mr. Oz be that he's powerful enough to trap and imprison him, and in such a manner? (That manner will be explored in the second story, if not the actual identity. I suppose he could be someone as powerful as The Other Clark, because they are of the same species, or be from a higher plane of existence still but there's no real clues here. His name is a half clue, perhaps, but the second two letters contradict the first two).

Third and finally, this character's making something of a heel turn. While always technically an adversary of Superman's, you'd be hard-pressed to call him a villain. He's really only turned evil in an "Imaginary Story" by Alan Moore, so what the writers here are doing seems to be at least semi-inspired by yet another work of Alan Moore, a well DC writers and editors simply don't seem capable of staying away from for longer than a month or so at a time. Moore call-backs and allusions show up in the books constantly, and how weird would it be if this mega-plot hinged on not only his characters from Watchmen but also his characterization of a Superman character in another work of his? (Grant Morrison did something semi-similar during his JLA run, too, I should note, but that was years after Moore did it, and Morrison used similar characters, rather than the same character. At any rate, it seems that Jurgens and Paul Dini have been thinking of those Moore and Morrison stories, even if only in the back of their heads, while writing.

The back-up story, "The Man in the Purple Hat," (okay, I've spoiled it by now, haven't I?) is by Paul Dini and artist Ian Churchill. The first is a surprise only in that it's always a surprise to see Dini doing comics work to me, but he has some association with the character. Churchill I wouldn't imagine a good choice for this story, but this was honestly the best work I've ever seen from him, as he fairly flawlessly imitates art from Silver and Golden Age Superman comics, and manages levels of character acting I didn't think he was capable of.

In this 18-page story, Jon and The Man in the Purple Hat share stories, with the latter's story being how exactly Mr. Oz captured him, how he eventually escaped and how he managed to restore Superman's secret identity by becoming a perfectly human Clark Kent...and doing such a good job of it that he himself hadn't realized he had done it.

So this was all very well executed, surprisingly well-executed, but as to how long this character will stay more villainous than mischievous (something that doesn't really work for a non-Imaginary story, given his power levels), and how this fits in with all this Mr. Oz/Watchmen business.

I can't wait to read the next chapter, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a bit worried about it.

Deathstroke #14 (DC) My greatest criticism regarding this particular issue of the series I'm surprised to find still on my pull-list given my complete disinterest in the character (which goes a long way towards demonstrating the power of a great writer) is for whoever it was that decided on the text filling too much of the cover:


See, the fact that Deathstroke is blinded is actually revealed on the very last page, as a sort of shocking cliffhanger. But it's not so shocking if you knew it was coming just by looking at the cover (Yes, I am criticizing DC for spoiling the ending of their own comic just one review after saying I don't care about spoilers. What can I say? I'm capricious).

To my surprise, this issue prominently features Power Girl II, the one who appeared in the pages of Teen Titans for a while and who I therefore completely ignored. She doesn't have powers that in any way resemble Power Girl I's, who was actually just Supergirl from the first of the two worlds designated Earth-2 in the New 52 so can kinda see why I ignored her, right? This stuff is downright byzantine sometimes). Instead, she seems to have the powers of The Doom Patrol's Elastigirl). She's also a super-scientist with a German shepherd (pictured on the front).

Joe Bennett continues to pencil, here inked by Jeromy Cox, and writer Priest has Slade performing a hit for the guy who kinda sorta decided to let him maybe stay out of prison. Power Girl, being a superhero, just sees a taxi cab accident and people with guns, so she intervenes and saves a badly poisoned Slade. Meanwhile, stuff continues to happen with Rose and the case of the latter, bad stuff.

Detective Comics #952 (DC) Having played up the mystery of Cassandra Cain's parentage, and Shiva's particular interest in and kinship with her, for years in the pre-Flashpoint DCU (DC is in the midst of reprinting those particular comics right now! You should totally read Batgirl Vol. 1: Silent Knight and Batgirl Vol. 2: To The Death right now! They are a much better investment than, say, trade paperback collections of Detective Comics!), writer James Tynion perhaps wisely decides to not bother this time around...although he continues to echo the earlier continuity in a way that begs comparison with the Scott Peterson/Kelley Puckett-written Batgirl, and comes up wanting.

In this issue, it's immediately apparent that Shiva is Cassandra's mom. We're told as much in the first two pages, and she tells Cass and Batman before the issue is over. She also attempts to fight her, and is disappointed that Cass isn't trying to kill her, and more disappointed still when Cass says "Won't... Kill..."

Tynion's portrayal of Shiva is...weird, though. Now she's a complete sadist. She doesn't seem too terribly interested in finding the world's greatest fighters and then fighting them to the death as mush as she is in setting up a rival faction to Ra's a Ghul's League of Assassins, and with them...destroying cities? For some reason? (Maybe they will reveal that later). She's also a complete sadist, more interested in inflicting pain than simply killing as quickly and efficiently as possible. I...don't really get it.

There's a lot I don't really get in this book though, to be honest. Shiva is attempting to destroy Gotham City for an unstated reason, and that includes framing Batman for murder, making people believe the Joker is attacking and trying to assassinate Batman's 'TEC team with swords. They all stand in a circle and fight, two of them being horribly wounded. I have no idea why Clayface didn't just take them all on himself, given that he's essentially unkillable by swords (he eventually does so; Clayface should really even be able to take on Shiva too, since he's just sentient mud that can control itself on a near-molecular level).

Again, I like all these characters, and Tynion's not a bad writer, I just have no idea what he's doing, or why. The art here is all over the place, with I think two artists credited and three colorists, each with particular page designations? I liked whoever did the first three pages the best (Fernando Blanco and Alex Sinclair, I think). The Shiva/Cassandra fight, and the Shiva/Batman fight that follows, were both pretty terrible...but then, I say that after having just read a Shiva/Cassandra fight expertly choreographed and rendered by Damion Scott last week, so...

As for the cover, your guess is as good as mine. Suffice it to say that Batman does not fight a bunch of brown hands within.

Gotham Academy: Second Semester #7 (DC) This issue, like each of the previous ones, has a story credit devoted to Brenden Fletcher, Becky Cloonan and Karl Kerschl, while Brenden Fletcher is credited with the script. I find this somewhat distressing, as it means that it took not one, not two, but three people to decide to make Tyler Durden a teenage girl at a Gotham City private school. That's the sort of decision that one usually expects from Brian Michael Bendis, where he seemingly finishes watching a movie or TV show and decides to write a Marvel comics event series based on that premise. But even if, say, Fletcher re-watched Fight Club and thought, "Hey, what if Tyler Durden went to Gotham Academy?" that means there are two people there who can talk him down and say, "Nah, that's too obvious."

Now, this issue features that revelation, and it's still possible there's a supernatural variation to distinguish it from Fight Club, but, ugh, I rolled my eyes so hard in this issue I had to spend a few minutes on my hands and knees, feeling around my apartment floor to find them and put them back in my head.

I suppose I should also note that this is starting to feel very climactic, and it seems like there's a very good chance that there won't be a third semester of the title.

Josie and the Pussycats #5 (Archie Comics) I...have a really hard time writing about this book, because it is so dense, so complex and so good. Can I just say that this is the very best comic book I read last night? By a factor of, I don't know, 10 or 20? This is the end of the first story arc, as Melody happily shrugs on the climactic last page, in which the Pussycats are being arrested for plagiarism ("I...don't think you can be arrested for that," Valerie says). It also features the first appearance of Alexander Cabot, who, like Alan M., is extremely different in this series than he was ever previously portrayed.

Seriously, if you read only one new comic book this week, I hope it is this one. It is so good.

Justice League of America #2 (DC) Do you know what's weird about this series? Well, one of the weird things about this series? Batman is on this Justice League. But he's also on that other Justice League, the one with all of the most powerful and influential superheroes in the world. He frequently, if unconvincingly, articulates what makes the Leagues different, but when this League is confronted by a potentially extinction-level threat--the Marvel analogues from Angor arriving and announcing their attention to conquer Earth--he doesn't bother to call his pals in the other League, but decides he'll just fight them with Black Canary, Lobo and a bunch of newbies. (I mean, I know why he doesn't, but it might be nice if there was a throwaway line of Batman saying under his breath "Dammit, Superman is off-planet with the Lanterns" or, Cyborg checking in and saying he saw the fight on the news, and asking if Batman's team needed any help.)

The goals, the premise of this League that writer Steve Orlando keeps laying out--that they are a team of the people, that they will inspire regular folks to act in heroic ways, that they will be more earthbound--isn't exactly in keeping with the first threat he presents them with, fending off an extra-dimensional invasion by off-brand versions of Doctor Doom, Magneto, the dread Dormammu and so on.

This is the first Ivan Reis-less issue (even though it says #2, it's technically the third issue, as there were two number ones, but comics), and artist Felipe Watanabe and inker Scott Hanna are here instead. The difference is quite noticeable.

As for the plot, fake Doctor Doom and The Extremists have started by taking over fake Latveria and consolidating their control there, so Batman and his team have to decide to take on a whole country in the next chapter.

Justice League/Power Rangers #3 (DC) As giant, octopus-looking creatures attack major cities on several continents, the Justice League and Power Rangers go to work, the former calling in a rather random group of reservists (Green Arrow, Black Canary, Mera, Beast Boy, Starfire, Captain Marvel Shazam, Nightwing, Supergirl, Batgirl, Kid Flash, Green Lantern Jessica Cruz and...pre-Flashpoint Hawkgirl...? Well, whatever; I mean, John Stewart's this League's Lantern, so writer Tom Taylor and artist Stephen Byrne are basically just telling the story they want, rather than worrying if it fits in with a particular continuity).

Taylor includes some pretty great lines in this, particularly once Brainiac captures the Zords and heads to Earth-PR with them, likely to use them to collect the city in a bottle and give the rest of that Earth to Lord Zedd. That's when it's up to the League and Billy to try to invent a dimensional portal that will take them back to their home world.

The two panels that stick with me the most, though, are the first two on page eight. The first is labeled "Buenos Aires, Argentina" and shows Nightwing, Green Lantern John Stewart, Green Arrow, Black Canary attacking an octopus. The next one is labeled "Seattle, USA" and shows Cyborg, Starfire and Capt--Er, Shazam fighting an octopus there. Don't GA and Canary live in Seattle now? Did they teleport away from their city, which was being attacked by a giant octopus, in order to go fight a giant octopus in a different city, while other heroes had to teleport to their city to fight the giant octopus attacking it?

See, this is why the Justice League needs Barbara Gordon, Oracle...

Reggie And Me #3 (Archie) This is my least favorite of the Archie books, but I have to admit it is the most densely plotted, and writer Tom DeFalco does seem to be going out of his way to present a rather realistic, and surprisingly morally complex, portrayal of high school life. I guess it's my least favorite because it's the least funny, but I suppose it is also the book that has the most in common with the line's flagship book, Archie.

In this issue, she overall shape of Reggie's plan to eliminate his two main rivals, Archie and Moose, by pitting them against one another, continues to take form, and it becomes somewhat complicated when we follow Reggie to Moose's house after school, and together we learn there's a lot more to the big guy than is immediately apparent. And just as we learn that maybe Reggie's not all bad, his dog Vader (the and Me of the title) begins to suspect that maybe his Reggie isn't all good.

Also, we learn that Midge ships Reggie and Betty ("Beggie"...?). I could see that. If nothing else, it would annoy Archie!

Suicide Squad #13 (DC) In the first chunk, drawn by John Romita JR and Richard Friend, Deadshot admits that yes, it was he who shot Amanda Waller to death (although I don't think she's as dead as they all seem to think) and he then kinda sorta takes on the rest of the Squad before escaping (Djinn shuts off the brain bombs). In the second chunk, drawn by Eddy Barrows and Eber Ferreira, the rest of the Squad escapes, a traitor is revealed and another character seemingly gets killed...but probably not.

I still find the format confusing, as the two stories seem to follow one after the other, but they are labeled like different storylines. They make sense read like this, although where the labels and The Ends fall don't, and I'm not sure how they will be placed in a trade. These two, for example, seem like they have to be read back-to-back...? I don't know. Maybe the book needs to just change artists more frequently, so that, say, JRJR would have drawn all 20 of these pages, or maybe the back-ups need to focus on something other than the main storyline, like little sidequests featuring the characters that are otherwise unrelated to the main storyline? I don't know.

I really like JRJR's art, though, and don't really like Barrows, and it's weird to see the inconsistencies between the two in these two stories (Does Boomerang have sideburns or not? Does Harley's mallet have spikes or not? And so on).

Wonder Woman #18 (DC) I like Bilquis Evely's art.

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