Thursday, April 20, 2017
Comic Shop Comics: April 19th
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.
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."
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.
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.
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!
I really love that Javier Fernandez cover too, with the big, blue Nightwing heart.
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.