Thursday, April 06, 2017

Comic Shop Comics: April 5th

Batman #20 (DC Comics) This is the climax of writer Tom King's current "I Am Bane" story arc, and his 20-ish issue run on the title overall, given how much the narrator focuses on recounting the events of the entire series to date, and tying the events of the first issue to those in this issue. I wish I could say that it was as exciting as that fact suggests it should be, however the entire issue consists of Batman and Bane trading bloody punches to the face while King's narration, from the POV of dead Martha Wayne, does all of the heavy-lifting.

I'm tempted to blame this arc's pencil artist David Finch, as I'm no real fan of his work, but I suppose King and the editors who assigned the story to Finch in the first place also deserve some of that blame. You know all those stories you've read or watched that harp on what a great fighter Batman is, how he's one of the world's top martial artists and blah blah blah? You wouldn't know it from this issue of Batman which, again, consists entirely of a 20-page fight scene with flashbacks. Batman just takes and gives punches, like a very weary boxer. It's hard to imagine a more dull fight scene in a comic book, and the sole point of interest in the visuals is probably the one panel where Finch decides to swipe a Frank Miller pose from The Dark Knight Returns.

Given that DKR is probably the most-read Batman comic book of all-time, I have to assume it was meant as a deliberate homage. But then, it's just the panel, not the page, so then I wonder if maybe it was just the result of simply looking for pictures of Batman putting his dukes up to swipe, or if it was a deliberate reference that just demonstrates that Finch doesn't really think about his comics art carefully enough to consider it beyond just-getting-through each panel, one at a time, with no thought of how they fit on a page or an issue. (Am I being too hard on Finch and Batman? I don't think so. Just compared to the other handful of comics I read this evening, it stands-out as piss-poor action. There isn't a page of Corey Lewis' Sun Bakery that isn't full of more action and vitality than any page in this comic book).

As for King's narration, it flirts with a fun idea, that part of the reason Batman has gone to such tremendous lengths over the course of the last few story arcs was that it would provide him with a perfect weapon to perhaps win his war on crime. This won't make much sense if you dwell on it too long--Gotham and Gotham Girl weren't exactly the first young super-people Batman had met--but one need not think of it too long anyway, as Batman himself deflates that idea with a pretty noble, heroic and simply-stated retort to his ghost mom.

This issue, like swathes of King's Batman, is thus more disappointing than it is all-around bad. He did a great deal of long-term planning, and proposed a lot of interesting ideas, but the execution is more often than not left wanting by poor art. I have to imagine King's Batman would have fared far better as a monthly, with a single, solid artist attached, rather than the baton being repeatedly passed to Finch or the occasional one-off artist who blows a key scene or two.

Next issue guest-stars the smiley face pin from the pages of 1986-87 classic Watchmen, so that should be...something.

DC Comics Bombshells #25 (DC) We're between story arcs and this is an anniversary issue, so it seems like as good a time as any to shift focus away from the Bombshells and to a team introduced in the the title's first annual: The World War II-era Bombshells-iverse's Suicide Squad. You'll recall that The Enchantress, Ravager, vampire Batgirl Barbara Gordon and Killer Croc now work as a strike force under the direction of Frankie (from the pages of Batgirl). In the 30-page feature story, in which regular writer Marguerite Bennett is joined by one-name artist Aneke, the Squad infiltrate a special German submarine captained by Edward Nygma in order to save his captive (and Batgirl's former lover), Luc Fuchs (Yeah, the Bombshells-iverse's Luke Fox). I really love the designs of this Suicide Sqaud, so it was great to see them all in action, as well as the neat, more unique presentations of the characters and their powers (This Enchantress, for example, looks an awful lot like the cute, kicky party-girl version of her first appearance, albeit more scantily-clad in accordance to the rules of this book. Her powers are used via her shadow, that, like Peter Pan's, seems to have a life of its own).

I feel compelled to call bullshit on some of Bennett's heavily affected dialogue, which uses modern-day slang in the 1940s (Or did the term "side quest" exist back then, decades before the invention of the first video game, and it just meant something slightly different? What about "PDA"...? And so on)

That story is complimented by a ten-page back-up (this fatter-than-usual issue will cost you $4.99), set in the 1930s and involving Frankie and two other supporting characters from the Cameron Stewart/Brenden Fletcher/Babs Tarr run raiding an Egyptian tomb and accidentally stumbling upon the fact that another Kryptonian has been on Earth for quite a while now: Faora). Here Frankie refers to "arms day," meaning the day in your workout routine focusing on your arms. Maybe Frankie just, like, invented 21st century slang...? That girl is so ahead of her time...!

Deathstroke #16 (DC) Credit where credit is due: Christoper Priest has turned Deadline into an honest-to-God interesting, compelling, even somewhat impressive villain. His "Twilight" story arc, with Larry Hama, Carlo Pagulayan, Jason Paz and others has turned out maybe be the very best Deadline story of all time!

If that's an accomplishment. I mean, it is an accomplishment, I'm just not sure how big an accomplishment. The blinded Deathstroke continues his charade as the super-hero Twilight, as part of a maybe overly-elaborate, Seinfeldian attempt to keep the fact that he's a brutal, amoral killer from the idealistic young girl/super-scientist/super-hero who helped save his life. That young lady, Power Girl II, is brutally killed in a two-page sequence that helps earns the series "T+" rating, and as that sends 'Stroke off to avenge her, it has all the markings of a classic fridging. But, um, spoiler alert: The young woman of color killed off to motivate the older white male hero turns out to be just fine, thanks to her amazing super-powers, and helps save the day without any further need of bloodshed.

It's a nice, if stressful, bait-and-switch Priest and company pulled off, and a lot of that credit is due to how final her death looked: Deadline shoots her with an alien gun that goes all the way through her, burning a hole in her and sending her skidding down an alley. Deathstroke, and any reader, would be forgiven for thinking there's no coming back form a shot like that.

Judge Dredd: Deviations #1 (IDW Productions) You guys know you should always pre-order your comics from your local comic shop, right? Why? Because if you don't, then you might end up missing out on a John McCrea-created (McCreated) comic about Judge Dredd being a werewolf, and have to wait on pins and needles for a few weeks for your shop to re-stock it.

Such was the fate I suffered.

This is apparently part of some What If...?/Elseworlds-like thing IDW did, where they had creators take a "classic" story of some kind and then "deviate" from it. Here, McCrea explains in his foreword that he was asked to do one that deviated from any Judge Dredd story he wanted, and he chose one from 2000 AD by John Wagner, Alan Grant and Steve Dillon where Dredd fought some werewolves, and temporarily became one...before being cured (IDW apparently also released a collection of that story under the title Judge Dredd: Cry of The Werewolf.

McCrea's deviation is that rather than being cured, Dredd stayed a wolf. And so here's a full-color, 24-page story of "Dreddwolf" by McCrea, an artist whose style is perfectly suited to the designs of Dredd and his milieu.

At $5, it's a bit over-priced, but IDW at least tries to compensate with a bunch of other non-comics stuff. The first page is a "What Really Happened..." recap of the story this one deviated from (I haven't seen any of the other Deviations specials, but I imagine the format is similar), a foreword from McCrea and an afterword (the latter in which the artist responds to the unfortunate event that occurred between his beginning work on this comic and its publication; Dillon's too-early death), six pages of process (which I found to be basically a waste of paper; it's the same page of the comic in six different stages of completion, from script to finished page) and then five pin-ups.

The pin-ups all feature either a werewolf, Dredd fighting a werewolf, or Dredd as a werewolf, and they come from a bunch of artist whose work you would be among those that you would most associate with Dredd (and/or would want to see associated with the character): Jock, Brendan McCarthy, Garry Leach, Eric Canete and Duncan Fegredo.

Jughead #14 (Archie Comics) This is, heartbreakingly, Ryan North's last issue on Jughead for the forseeable future, and it looks like his replacement is not going to be Chip Zdarsky, who North replaced on the title. This is pretty bad news, but if artist Derek Charm, who it is my firm belief is the very best of the Archie Comics since the relaunch of the line, then there will be some small consolation. I've liked these past 14 issues enough that I'll certainly pick up the next issue but guys I don't mind telling you, I'm worried.

Nightwing #18 (DC) There's a huge surprise at the end of this issue, as maybe the last villain I expected to see again--albeit a fairly natural one--arrives. Before that very last page? It's Nightwing and Robin vs. Professor Pyg's Dollotron Deathwing and Robin, with the heroes kinda sorta winning the day (or, at least, the majority of the issue), thanks in large part to all children's innate desire to be Robin.

I'm a little torn between whether writer Tim Seeley's reliance on Grant Morrison's Batman run here is commendable or perhaps a sign of creative exhaustion (there's an argument to be made for the latter, I suppose, given the degree to which the previous arc relied so heavily on Chuck Dixon's Nightwing comics), but as someone who enjoyed (most) of Morrison's run on those comics, I'm enjoying the hell out of it.

I suppose it's also possible that Seeley is doing some kinda big meta-tribute to Nightwing's history here too, as he's revisited two of the major stages of Dick Grayson's post-Robin, pre-Agent of Spyral career. We'll see.

Providence #12 (Avatar Press) I'll be honest: I thought this series ended last issue, and the months between the shipping of #11 and #12 only made me more confident in that. Well, it didn't. Rather, this is the final issue of writer Alan Moore's extremely elaborate exploration of the work of H.P. Lovecraft, which is something akin to fan fiction, meta-fiction, criticism, homage and extrapolation. It's essentially a unified theory of Lovecraft, and for this final (?) issue, many members of the cast have been reassembled to witness a dramatic shift in reality. Like the 11 previous issues, artist Jacen Burrows effectively renders the sorts of horrors that aren't meant to be portrayed visually (Shub-Niggurath appears in one panel, and is scary as hell).

I liked this a whole lot, but what is perhaps most striking at this point is the way in which Moore uses Lovecraft's writing as a stand-in for all forms of writing/storytelling/fiction, and the obvious but hardly-ever-made observation about just how crazy it is that Lovecraft's body of work is popular at all, given how weird and, frankly, off-putting his fiction was.

This hasn't been the best or easiest comic to read as it's been serially published, but it's going to make a hell of a collection some day...hopefully one with annotations (I've read and re-read Lovecraft, but it's been so many years since my last re-reading that I felt like there were a ton of allusions, in-jokes and biographical references that whizzed right by me and occasionally right over my head).

Sunbakery #2 (Image Comics) This issue of Corey Lewis' one-man anthology includes five different stories, mostly continued from the previous issue and, in one instance, ending in this issue (at least for now). The most noteworthy of the stories in this issue is Bloodshed, whose story lasts buts one-page...two if you count the cover that Lewis draws for it. That's "Bloodshed," which stars a character named Bloodshed, who seems like the exact sort of character one of the Image founders (or a fan of one of the Image founders) might have come up with in the '90s ("The Dream of The 90's Is Alive ...In BLOODSHED," reads the cover). Turns out Lewis did create the character way back then, although I suppose it's worth noting that for all the era-specific signifiers to the character (headband, shoulderpads, red X chest icon, etc) he still looks and reads like a bad-ass anti-hero who is heavily influenced by manga and/or anime, rather than just, I don't know, The Punisher and Deathstroke The Terminator or whoever).

If, for some strange reason, you could only read one comic book this week, you should make it Sun Bakery, as it is several awesome comics in one.

Superman #20 (DC) So after the head-bending, franchise-specific reboot of post-Flashpoint Superman continuity in "Superman Reborn," we return to Hamilton County and find things...weird, as writers Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason pretty much just pick up where they left off, but with some small changes, like Superman's family's surname being "Kent" again. I guess it's just going to take a bunch of new issues of Superman before a reader gets used to this.

This issue guest-stars Batman and Robin, who have once again returned to the farm. I really like both of the World's Finest having family's, or at least sons, now, and pencil artist Gleason gets to draw a lot of fun scenes, like everyone sitting around the kitchen table eating pie or Batman milking a cow (Don't get too excited about that latter point; it's not as amazing as the scene you're seeing in your head right now, he just goes to get a milk sample from a cow).

DC's shenanigans with the Super-family have been ridiculously convoluted over the last five years (imagine how much more simple, interesting and noteworthy it might have been if Superman and Lois just, like, had a kid), but at least Tomasi, Gleason and company's Superman is good enough that the continuity gymnastics can ding it, but not sink it.

No comments: