Thursday, May 18, 2017

Comic Shop Comics: May 17th

Archie #20 (Archie Comics) Well this series got serious fast! Writer Mark Waid, again working with Pete Woods, starts in his usual comedy mode, and, indeed, for much of the issue tells the usual jokes about how clumsy Archie is, but the ending involves a terrible car crash in which three vehicles get totaled, and three of the characters on the cover are involved. It's a cliffhanger--in fact, at least one car goes over a cliff--so we don't know exactly who is in jeopardy at this point, but what whiplash. I suppose that's the point, of course, and Waid managed to make it feel dramatic precisely because it was such a sudden change of tone.

It strikes me as a little less dramatic than the fate of Reggie's newly acqured Vader at the end of Reggie and Me, however, as there's no way any of these three are actually going to be killed off.

The reason that Archie is so easily goaded by Reggie felt a little unconvincing to me, as this was literally the first time it came up, and was probably something Waid could have/should have laid the groundwork for in earlier issues. I was also a little surprised to hear Archie talking about the fact that he hates Reggie, which is a pretty damn strong word for Archie. I mean, Reggie's a jerk, but he's always been more of Archie's frenemy and rival than someone good-natured doofus Archie would use the h-word about, right?

Of course, there's a TV show in which Archie had sex with Ms. Grundy airing these days, so it's not like the rules of Riverdale aren't more malleable than ever.

This issue, by the way, is labeled on the cover as "Over The Edge Part 1." Waid has worked in arcs throughout the previous 19 issues, and this has been one big ongoing storyline, but this is the first time that an issue has been specifically labeled as part of a multi-part story arc.

Batman #23 (DC Comics) Writer Tom King takes a break from his ongoing "I Am ____" story arcs for a done-in-one "The Brave and The Mold" with guest-artist Mitch Gerards (King's partner on Vertigo's The Sheriff of Babylon, which is heavily promoted with a house ad within this very issue). The cover bills it as "The STRANGEST Team-Up in History!" which is just...weird, no matter how you parse it. It's not like Batman is teaming up with the center-fielder for The Gotham Knights or the ghost of Emily Bronte or my grandfather; it's just Swamp Thing, a character who Batman has teamed-up with plenty of times before and who is, in fact, in Batman's regular team-up rotation, along with the likes of Deadman and Zatanna (In fact, I'm fairly certain there are enough Batman/Swamp Thing team-ups that DC could fill-out a trade paperback entitled The Greatest Batman/Swamp Thing Team-Ups Ever, and maybe even a big, fat Batman: Arkham--Swamp Thing collection. Only Mike Sterling knows for sure! Well, Mike Sterling and some other people, I guess).

What is perhaps slightly strange about this issue is that it is a murder mystery involving a character incredibly close to Swamp Thing--Alec Holland's birth father--who is found shot twice in the head in an apartment on the 84th floor of a building in Gotham City. Swamp Thing arrives at the scene of the crime, and he and Batman spend the majority of the issue trying to figure out who the killer might be and how to find him. They do.

There's a pretty great two-page spread in the middle of the issue, in which Swamp Thing visits Wayne Manor, and in general the interplay between the two characters is a lot of fun. It's nice to see a character who towers over Batman, for a change, and to see Swampy crammed into Robin's seat in the Batmobile.

I was a little unconvinced by the high-drama here, which ultimately involved two ways of looking at death, each articulated by Swamp Thing, and then reacted to rather fiercely by Batman. One way involves a sort of acceptance, the other a sort of rage tinged-with-acceptance, but both involve ways of looking at death as part of the natural world, neither of which would be too terribly comforting to most human beings, Batman, I would guess, included. (The gist of it is that Batman would prefer the way of looking at death that is more positive, but, like I said, this is basically an argument over whether his parents are tree food or dust; a more convincing take on this came at the end of the Spectre team-up in 1997's Batman #540-#541, as at least that big guy in green dealt in souls, and with Heaven and Hell...more traditional human concepts of what might happen after death).

I liked seeing Ace, introduced in that Eisner-nominated* short-story from Detective Comics, curled up on the two-page spread, even though it did make me wonder about Titus. Do the two dogs get along? Does Titus leave in San Francisco now? Or is Wayne Manor big enough that the two hardly ever even run into one another...?

Also, King manages to work Kite-Man in again. At this point I think King is just including Kite-Man in ever script just to see how long DC will let him do so.

I was a little disappointed in Gerads' artwork, which only really alarmed me because I had heard the very exciting news that there would be a new Mister Miracle series soon, and it was going to be by King...and Gerads. I'm not personally crazy about this sort of super-realistic style, as anyone reading this blog for long probably knows (I would have preferred, for example, to see variant cover artist Tim Sale draw the interiors of this issue, instead of the 20 or so variants he's probably done at this point).
Gerads still sells what needs to be sold; I really liked the monstrous quality he invests a big, ape-like Swamp Thing with (particularly his entrance into the museum), for example, and the sight gags of the awkward pairing of heroes all work well.

On the other hand, I have no idea how Swamp Thing made his entrance; specifically, what he made his entrance out of. It looks like a paperweight, or rot. Based on the title, I'm assuming a hunk of bread gone moldy, but I honestly don't know.

I'm still looking forward to Mister Miracle, but not as much as I was before reading this...

DC Comics Bombshells #27 (DC) Wait, I don't think I like whichever artist drew the middle section of this issue...! There's a scene where a bunch of monsters and creatures of folklore attack a circus, and it's just as confusing as all get-out. If the narration wasn't explaining what on Earth was going on, I surely wouldn't have been able to find, like "sides" in the conflict, or figure out who or what was doing what to who or what...

The first two-thirds of the book involve Raven running away with Harley and Ivy for Russia, while the final third picks up with Supergirl, Steve Trevor and Lex Luthor on the train. Nice cover, and I Mirka Andolfo's character work was as fun as always, but this was overall a bit of a disappointment, I'm afraid, as the art too rarely effectively sold what the script called for (There's some stuff with the flying manta ray too that it's easy to imagine looking really cool if drawn differently, but which just looks confusing here).

Flash #22 (DC) This is it! The conclusion of Batman/Flash/Watchmen pin crossover "The Button," in which our heroes finally figure out the true nature of the button and solve the mysterious murder of The Reverse-Flash!

Or at least that's what I thought it would be. Instead, the story ends with Batman, apparently acting on the advice of his father from the Flashpoint reality to not be Batman, decides to give up. See November's The Doomsday Clock, advertised on a two-page spread in the back of this issue, for more. (Batman will presumably go back to being Batman, however, given all the Batman comics DC needs to put out between now and November.)

In retrospect, not a whole hell of a lot happened in this story arc, at least not a whole hell of a lot that you didn't already know from reading DC Universe: Rebirth. My main takeaways were that DC continuity is confusing and is still in a very, very long state of flux, in addition to a handful of refugees from the previous continuity (Johnny Thunder, Saturn Girl) there's a Justice League storage room full of objects from the previous continuity, and Wally West wasn't the only Flash bouncing around the Speed Force, seeking to break back into reality (see the cover). As for Jay Garrick, unlike Wally he doesn't make it into the current DCU, but disappears shortly after rescuing the marooned Barry Allen and Batman.

I had fun reading these four issues while I was reading them, but now that I've finished the fourth and final chapter, I can't say that it was necessarily worthwhile, if that makes sense. (Well, in retrospect, the Batman/Reverse-Flash fight scene was still pretty cool, and...yeah, that's all that really holds up.)

Pretty nice cover here, though.

Jughead #15 (Archie) With writer Ryan North gone, and with pre-Ryan North writer Chip Zdarsky not returning, this would have probably been a good time to drop Jughead, save for two factors. One, artist Derek Charm, who I maintain is the best of Archie's current line-up of artists, is still here and two, this issue guest-stars not only Sabrina The Teenage Witch (and Salem, who Charm's version of is the best version of of all time) but also Josie and The Pussycats, and really, how could i not read that?

The writing team is Mark Waid, joined by Ian Flynn; Waid's done okay by Jughead in the main Archie title, but his forte isn't exactly comedy, and I was unsure of how well he would be able to handle the current Jughead book, which isn't just funny, but also ridiculously dense with gags (I'm actually having trouble thinking of any comedic comic writer whose scripts are as gag-dense as North's) and often wildly absurd. Waid and Flynn definitely get the absurdity part down just fine: Jughead misses an opportunity to get a ticket to The Pussycats' Riverdale show, so Sabrina tries to help, casting a spell that accidentally makes Josie, Valerie and Melody all fall madly in love with Jughead Jones, whoever that is, and, later, all of the girls in Riverdale.

What would be a dream come true for Archie or Reggie is, of course, Jughead's worst nightmare, as established by North and Charm in their Sabrina-centric arc.

This is a premise with a lot of potential, so Waid and Flynn are off to a good start.

Also, Charm draws some epic eye-rolls on his darling version of Salem.

Justice League/Power Rangers #4 (Boom Studios) After figuring out a way to punch through to the Power Rangers' home universe, Batman suits the kids up with costumes and weapons from the Justice League armory (So that Trini is dressed like Katana, Billy wears Prometheus' helmet and has Blue Devil's trident and so on) and they all go after Brainiac, who has already shrunk Angel Grove and added it to his collection.

There's a scene where The Flash tries to explain Green Arrow's boxing glove arrow to Kimberly, and she cuts him off:
No. I get it. It's for when you want to punch someone who's a long way away. It makes perfect sense.
I re-read that panel twice, and was about to accuse the writer of this issue of stealing that from the writer of Injustice, where Green Arrow and Harley Quinn first bonded over a boxing glove arrow with pretty much those exact same words, when I realized that Justice League/Power Rangers is written by Tom Taylor...who also wrote that scene in Injustice. And I guess it's not really stealing if you're stealing from yourself.

This series, like that first Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles crossover, remains fine, but somewhat disappointing in that it's not everything I want it to be, nor everything I think it could be.

Nightwing #21 (DC) After the rather rocky first story arc ("Better Than Batman") introducing Raptor, I felt like Tim Seeley really found his footing with Nightwing, and the last two story arcs were so solid that I finally added the book to my pull-list last week. And...Seeley's not writing this issue. Rather, a Michael McMillian is, with Christian Duce providing the artwork.

Despite my initial disappointment, McMillian did a pretty fine job here. It's a done-in-one, superfirends-hang out issue, in which a bored Wally West speeds to Bludhaven in order to visit his life-long friend Nightwing (this is a little awkward at the moment, given the uncertainty of DCU continuity, as Wally hasn't existed in the current continuity until DC Comics: Rebirth, and his history with various characters is subjective, but I think it works here, as Nightwing and the other Titans from Titans seem to have recovered their memories of Wally West, even though they don't really line-up with either the old continuity or the current continuity.

Anyway, Nightwing and The Flash hang out for 20-pages, inevitably fighting a supervillain with the kind of comic book-science high-tech gizmo that a classic one-off Flash villain might have.

Superman #23 (DC) Fair warning, I'm going to spoil the last pages of this issue, which explains why this story arc is called "Black Dawn." As you likely know, I don't generally worry much about spoilers in these posts, but given that there are only two events in this issue that are of any real interest and/or likely to be picked up on in the future, and the reveal is one of them, I guess knowledge of it could actually ruin the reading experience of this issue, so, um, "spoiler alert," okay?

As it turns out, this issue reveals that the current "Black Dawn" arc, which in itself is a bit of a culmination of the Kents' lives in Hamilton County up until this point, is yet another riff on the modern classic Joe Kelly-written story from 2001's Action Comics #775, "What's So Funny About Truth, Justice and The American Way?", which pitted the classic superheroics of Superman against the cynical, amoral super-combat represented by WildStorm's then-popular The Authority, by having Superman meet The Elite, a DCU analogue to The Authority, lead by Manchester Black.

It was a very good story, and popular enough that DC riffed on it repeatedly, with Manchester Black becoming a recurring Superman villain, and Kelly even writing a Justice League spin-off title for a time called Justice League Elite. I'm abut 90% sure I remember seeing Manchester Black in the New 52, I want to say in some dumb Teen Titans arc, but I honestly don't know. It may not matter at this point anyway, as "Superman Reborn" restored Superman's pre-New 52 continuity, which presumably effects the characters that participated in it to some level of indeterminate degree. So this might be the first time we've seen this new version of Manchester Black since...I don't know when, actually.

The Elite, here referred to as The Super Elite and made up entirely of new members, are a curious thing in the post-Flashpoint DCU, now that the WildStorm characters are fully integrated into the DCU. That is, there's no real reason for an Authority analogue when you have easy access to The Authority itself, and there's no real reason for a Jenny Sparks analogue when you have access to the real Jenny Sparks, right? (At the moment, however, I think the only WildStorm character still functioning in the DCU to any extent is The Midnighter, and his partner Apollo. But that's about it...? The current series The Wild Storm seems to be rebuilding the characters in a universe of their own, although who knows what that will ultimately mean for the status of the characters in the DCU.)

A DCU with both The Authority--or at least the characters from the pages of The Authority--and The Elite feels slightly redundant. But we'll see; at the moment, this is just a reveal, and we've no idea what they will be doing, exactly.

It's nice that this particular arc fell to Superman pencil artist Doug Mahnke, as he drew the original Elite story, and plenty of those that followed. He is here inked again by too many inkers, and this is one of the unfortunate issues where it is apparent from the art that there are too many inkers in the kitchen. Er, studio.

*Which totally doesn't deserve the nomination, by the way. That short story was drawn by David Finch, who did a literally incompetent job on the art. There's a panel where Batman finds Ace in a "pit" with the corpses of a few other dogs, where The Joke apparently left them all, and Finch draws the pit just a few inches deep, so that any or all of the dogs could easily have stepped out of it at any time, rather than having been forced to kill one another. Feh.

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