Thursday, April 20, 2017

Comic Shop Comics: April 19th

All-Star Batman #9 (DC Comics) The issue is the concluding chapter of the second story arc of the Scott Snyder-written All-Star Batman, "The Ends of The Earth." Over the past three issues, Batman has faced a series of three different mad scientist-type rogues in issues drawn by different artists, all in an attempt to stave off an apocalyptic threat posed by a spreading "death spot" of a disease. In this climactic issue, which All-Star #6 artist Jock has returned to draw, the mastermind behind the plot is revealed. I would like to be coy here, so as not to spoil that villain's identity, but it is of course exactly the classic Batman villain obsessed with ending the world in its current form and, well, DC went ahead and spoiled his identity on Chris Burnham's variant cover for the issue:
This is a pretty good example of why I am increasingly sick and tired of seeing Ra's al Ghul in my weekly comics. Not only is Snyder using him here as his final boss villain, but Snyder's sometimes co-writer James Tynion IV is also using him as a villain in his current Detective Comics story arc (see below). That means Ra's a Ghul is the villain in two of the three main Batman books at the moment, and they are not part of a crossover or otherwise inter-related story (Additionally, the previous, just-ended arc of Teen Titans used Ra's as the main villain).

I don't begrudge Snyder for wanting to write his Ra's story. Prior to this issue, the only other time he wrote the character was in a brief appearance in Batman Eternal, and that was a comic he was writing with multiple co-writers, and the point of the appearance was simply to eliminate Ra's as a suspect from the series' core mystery. And the fact of the matter is, this is a pretty good Ra's al Ghul story, featuring Batman's immortal villain taking a slightly different tack than normal, and having a rather long, drawn-out conversation with Bruce Wayne about the nature of demons and stories, and how beliefs in the latter of varied over his very, very long life-time.

In other words, it's a pretty good Ra's al Ghul story, but it's hard to stand out as such when there's just sooo much background noise for it to compete against (I read this book prior to this week's issue of Detective, which does acknowledge All-Star #9 via an asterisk, but the later book diminished my esteem for this one, in large part because it has Ra's reverted right back to his more standard portrayal). If Snyder, Tynion and the Bat-office want to restore a sense of threat or menace to the villain--and given the fact that he generally appears in Batman comics when he's trying to wipe out a large swathe of humanity, he probably should have such a sense--then they really need to do something similar to what they've been doing with The Joker, and try to limit his use to once a year or so.

Jock's art is mostly fairly strong, but while he has a great style, he sometimes sacrifices clarity in the action department, as in a scene where Bruce gets pulled through a window of the Washington Monument and briefly fights Man-Bats...somewhere. There's no real sense of place, or interaction between the panels. Jock's portrayals of the Man-Bats are particularly unfortunate, too. They don't look anything like Man-Bat, but are mostly just silhouettes with vaguely bat-shaped wings and bird talons. Given that the first appears just as Ra's is discussing demons, a reader might be forgiven for not realizing that it's been established about a decade ago now (Jeez, has it been so long?) that Ra's had stolen Dr. Kirk Langstrom's formula and given it to a bunch of his assassins, so that he now has an army of Man-Bat ninjas. If Scott Snyder was your gateway into Batman comics and you never read Grant Morrison's run on the franchise, or Peter Tomasi's Batman and Robin (in which Ra's al Ghul also played a huge, out-size role), I don't know if these scenes would make too much sense, as it just reads like Ra's has a cabal of actual demons to serve him.

The Francesco Francavilla-drawn, Duke Thomas-starring back-up feature also seems to be concluding--a supposition I base on the fact that it's entitled "The Cursed Wheel Finale"--and I admit to being fairly lost to what happens near the end of it. It would seem that Duke Thomas isn't quite human, although he doesn't know that, as by the end of the story his eyes glow, and, when we see things from his point of view, he appears to have some kind of Daredevil vision. If that's the case, that he's going to end up being a guy who dresses like a bat and has Daredevil-like vision powers, than maybe he will take the name The Black Bat, after the pulp hero who in retrospect seems like an amalgam of Batman and Marvel's Daredevil (Sorry, Cass!), although there's a line of dialogue in here that suggests another possible future code name: The Outsider. It's not a great codename, but it's probably better than not having any codename at all, and it does have some Batman connections, being a name used by a pair of past Bat-villains, and also being the singular version of Bronze Age Batman's first post-Justice League super-team.

Archie #19 (Archie Comics) Regular writer Mark Waid is joined by new artist...Pete Woods? Huh. That's unexpected. His style works okay here, but it's not a milieu that seems expected given the artists' super-comic resume, nor does he provide the best work on the title so far (or a New Riverdale title so far).

This done-in-one story features an unlikely team-up of sorts between Veronica and Jughead, Archie's two closest friends who don't really like one another at all. That changes when Hiram Lodge and Smithers come up with a plan to cheer Veronica up by finding her a new boyfriend, a set-up that Jughead manages to see-through and intervenes to keep his best friend happy by not letting Mr. Lodge come between them.

Could this be the beginning of...Vughead? No. No it could not.

The too-short story is followed by a six-page "special preview" of the upcoming Big Moose one-shot special, but given that it's six pages, that's like one-third of the comic, not really a preview (Bring back the classic Archie strips reprints! Pleeeeaaassse! I beg you!).There's also a full-page ad for the next issues, something called "Over the Edge Part 1", which features an image of Reggie and Archie balling their fists at one another in front of their cars, and a tag promising "The Biggest Comic Book Event Of The Year!" Can that possibly be true, or did they just forget to insert the word "Archie" between "Biggest" and "Comic"...?

My main take away, however, was that it should have been called "Over The Reg."

Batman #21 (DC) Writer Tom King gets in on the Alan Moore-trolling action with this first part of a four-part crossover between Batman, The Flash and the smiley face button from Watchmen. Despite the cover,there's actually relatively-little Watchmen-related material (other than the required nine-panel grid on some pages, although pencil artist Jason Fabok is rewarded for drawing that many panels per page by getting a two-page splash spread), but there are a lot of Multiversal/reboot-related stuff: The apparent Saturn Girl is in Arkham (and a huge hockey fan?) and the interaction of the button with Psycho-Pirate's Medusa Mask summons the Flashpoint Batman (briefly) and The Reverse Flash (not The New 52 one, but the one who was in Flashpoint). How far this particular story arc will ultimately move the "What The Fuck Has Been Going On Since DC Universe: Rebirth? " storyline will remain to be seen, but, in the mean time, it should at least boost the sales of the two participating titles, particularly The Flash.

This issue is mostly just Batman and Arkham inmates watching a hockey game on TV, and then Batman fighting The Reverse Flash, a confrontation that King and Fabok handle pretty well simply by adding a stop watch to the proceedings (a round one with moving hands might have been more Watchmen-y than the rectangular, digital one, but whatever). Batman's strategy for fighting the super-speedster is quite in keeping with King's writing of the Dark Knight's confrontation with Bane in the previous issue, too. I liked the "quite the reverse" line, too.

Given how directly it follows the events of the last two arcs of King's Batman, I'm somewhat curious how this will end up being collected. I have to assume it will be under the title The Button or Batman/Flash: The Button, but I suppose maybe it will be included in both trade collections of Batman (for the fourth volume, as this is the beginning of the fourth arc of King's run) and The Flash. Again, we'll see.

Cage! (Marvel Entertainment) I would say that this really wasn't worth the incredibly long wait between when it was first announced and today, when it finally arrives in its final, collected format, but then, as I believe I mentioned before, the wait was so long that I actually forgot it even existed until just before Marvel started soliciting the single issues.

This is, of course, the Genndy Tartakovsky Luke Cage series, set in the character's early days as the original Hero For Hire. The story is incredibly simple: Shortly after learning that various New York City superheroes are disappearing, Cage himself is captured by a pair of animal men and taken to a mysterious jungle island. There, he and other heroes from his era--Brother Voodoo, Iron Fist, Ghost Rider, Dazzler, Misty Knight and Black Panther--must do battle with animal men, created by the rhyming villain Professor Soos (Get it?). Only Cage is triumphant in all of his matches, because this is his comic, after all, and so he wins the grand prize: The honor of fighting Soos. He does, and after taking an incredible beating, he ultimately defeats the villain.

And, um, that's the whole story, spread over four issues that are mostly filled with pages containing rather few panels.

So no, there's not much to it, but that doesn't mean it isn't a blast. Tartakovsky's character designs are naturally all awesome, and it's a great deal of fun to see how his highly animated style translates into sequential art. His cartooning is pretty spectacular, and he knows how to tell an action scene and a joke in comics form almost as well as he does in animated form. Plotting aside, his scripting--the dialogue, the narration--have a perfectly appropriate, semi-hyperventilating, post-(but still inspired by!)Stan Lee style that would also have been appropriate to the era, although his comic is far less wordy than an actual 1970s Marvel comic might have been.

Tartakovsky's pencils are inked by Stephen DeStefano, himself a brilliant cartoonist whose work is far, far too rare (You can catch him in SpongeBob Comics now and again though), and their art is colored mostly by Scott Wills, although Bill Wray (another great cartoonist!) and Tartakovsky himself handle the colors on issue #2.

Included within are all of the many variant covers, most of which look completely inappropriate, given how different they are in style to the contents they would have covered. There's a strong list of artists who provided them, though: Bruce Timm (!), Arthur Adams, Damion Scott, Trevor Von Eeden, Bill Pressing, Marco D'Alfonso and Joe Quesada.

To help fill out the pages, and justify this being published as a trade paperback rather than something with staples or in something akin to DC's old "prestige format," Marvel has also included a reprint of 1972's Luke Cage, Hero For Hire #1 by Archie Goodwin, George Tuska and Billy Graham. The trade will run you $14.99, whereas the individual issues would have cost you $15.96 (and you wouldn't get that reprint). So not only is this a little cheaper and a better value, but I have to say given how slight the story is, reading it in monthly installments probably would have been super-frustrating.

Deathstroke #17 (DC) The title character does something so despicable in this issue--well, in addition to all the killing of people and the weird-ass way he interacts with his children, of course--that I might have had trouble continuing to read his adventures, but given that there's only, like, one more issue left before the book crosses over with the two Titans books and then jumps to $3.99, I guess it hardly matters. From the looks of things, everything from the previous 18 issues (This being a Rebirth title, it had two #1s, because comics) will come to a head next issue.

Josie and The Pussycats #6 (Archie) While the cover says this is the start of an all-new story arc, this flows pretty directly from the cliffhanger ending of the last issue, in which Alexander Cabot finally made his first appearance in the series, to arrest the Pussycats for plagiarism.

The bulk of this issue is an Alexander vs. Pussycats story, in which he whisks them away to his family's ice palace in Antartica to put them on trial. It's pretty weird, but in the same delightful way that the first five issues were.

This is probably the best comic Archie is publishing right now, with Jughead it's only competition. It's definitely one of the better serially-published, monthly comics in the market at the moment. Don't not read it!

Nightwing #19 (DC) I'm a little lost to all the nuances of what might be going on here, but then I never did understand who the villain on the cover was really supposed to be; at one point I was convinced Morrison intended him to be the actual devil, but here writer Tim Seeley implies that he is just a crazy evil psychologist, and one in service of demons and devils of some sort. Then there's the bit with the knife made from a metal that allows you to maybe see the Multiverse when you get stabbed or something? I don't know. I'm enjoying the trippiness of all this, which I'm assuming is meant to be a homage of sorts to Morrison's run on the first volume of Batman and Robin (and Batman before it).

I really love that Javier Fernandez cover too, with the big, blue Nightwing heart.

Superman #21 (DC) It looks like Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason may very well be in the process of providing an excuse for the newly rebooted Kent family to leave Hamilton County for Metropolis, given that it turns out there's something extremely weird and menacing about their neighbor Farmer Cobb, and maybe his cow Bessie and maybe even his daughter, and Jon's bestie, Kathy. Also, the locals are pretty unhappy with Superman's attempt to save them from a giant squid monster (the same one from very early in the book's run) not being violent enough.

Batman has gone missing after the climax of the previous issue, so Superman, Superboy and Robin suit up to find him. Just as last issue providing a really great image highlighting the cultural and character clash between the The Man of Steel and son and The Dark Knight and son, as everyone gathered around the kitchen table for coffee and pie, this one has a pretty great scene of Robin interacting with the Superman family, as he perches atop Superman's broad back and tugs at his cape, telling him to hold steady.

I was really resistant to the very idea of Damian as Robin upon his introduction, mostly because I thought Tim Drake was the best (and ultimate, final) Robin, but I'll be damned if I haven't grown to love that little bastard, particularly the way he plays off of other characters (his short-lived solo title was maybe my least favorite book to prominently feature him). His budding relationship with Superboy in this book as well as the new Super Sons (also by Tomasi) has been a delight, and it was fun seeing him interacting so much with Superman here.

1 comment:

Jeff McGinley said...

Tomasi is, and has been, the only one who makes Damien work for me. Even though I liked Morrison's run, I didn't find him likable. Tomasi humanizes him through the interactions with others. First Dick Grayson, and now the Superman family.