Thursday, May 25, 2017

Comic Shop Comics: May 24th

Detective Comics #957 (DC Comics) This issue of Detective, which sees regular writer James Tynion joined by co-writer Christoper Sebela, is kind of garbage. Entitled "The Wrath of Spoiler," it revisits the character after she left the team at the end of the second story arc, "The Victim Syndicate," and lays out her current mission in life kind of nonsensical, really.

The idea is that she views Batman, and all the other caped and masked vigilantes (like herself, I guess?) as part of the problem with Gotham City, the thing that attracts so many supervillains and their constant terror attacks on the city. Okay, that is an understandable opinion, and one that has been expressed by various characters dozens and dozens of times in post-Crisis Batman comics (in addition to super-comics in general).

Spoiler's solution? To continue to fight crime as a caped and masked Batman-style vigilante. Her one innovation is that she strives not to get any recognition for the supervillains she busts. Stacking the deck for their argument, Tynion and Sebela use the villain The Wrath, who attacks "GNN" headquarters in Gotham to call out Batman and kill him on-camera, and he arrives making a speech that almost exactly echoes the Spoiler's argument against vigilantes.

Before Batman can arrive, Spoiler takes on The Wrath and his men herself, but she does so by impersonating Batman, using a recording of his voice and a Batarang. Her goal was to beat him up and tie up his and his gang for the police to find, but she's not quite there yet, and so the police see Spoiler there, and she has to disappear in a cloud of smoke from a smoke bomb.

So her plan doesn't really make any sense; hell, if she really wanted to make sure no vigilante gets credit for vigilante crime-fighting, she probably shouldn't engage in it. If she wasn't seen by the police, they would still know someone--probably Batman--had taken down the Wrath and his men and tied them up for them. And if and when she's seen, she's immediately recognizable as a particular superhero (She even worked closely with Detective Harvey Bullock during "The Night of The Monster Men," although he seems not to recognize her here). Shouldn't she ditch the costume, or at least the superhero parts, and just stick to all black and a ski-mask or something?

Aside from the problem with her logic and the contrived convenience of a character semi-proving her point attacking this very issue, this seems really early for Stephanie Brown to be rethinking superheroics at all, given that she has only been a superhero for, like, a few months in Gotham time. This is a problem with the book in general, though, as Tynion just kind of skipped over parts of an expected story (like Spoiler and Tim's romance, for example) to just tell us they were dating, rather than to show it gradually happening. How much of this was his fault vs. how much of it is DC's constant reboot strategy is perhaps up to debate; the characters had a long relationship in the last continuity, and maybe Tynion wanted to basically tell a pre-Flashpoint story as much as possible in a post-Flashpoint universe...?

Speaking of which, the very last page has an appearance by one of my favorite characters, a relatively minor Bat-villain created by my favorite ever Batman creative team of Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle, a character who never really became the arch-enemy of Robin Tim Drake that I always wanted him to be, given how much the pair had in common and their early clashes: Anarky.

Anarky, of course, has a terrible costume redesign, although given the Wrath's redesign, I suppose it might even seem subtle in comparison (This is Wrath's second post-Flashpoint appearance; he traded in his purple costume with the W-shaped cowl for a generic-looking suit of gray, Iron Man-esque armor in the pages of a previous Detective Comics arc from the previous Detective Comics volume). I skipped the Detective Comics arc that introduced the post-Flashpoint Anarky (again, from the previous volume) because I was afraid to see what they might have done to the character (the teenagers of his "generation" of heroes and villains didn't come out of Flashpoint in reasonable, let alone good, shape). So I was a little surprised to see had traded in his signature color, robe, cape, hat and weapon for...well, he's basically just a guy in a mask with a red jacket now.

He only gets a line or two of dialogue, and only appears on the last page. I broke down and looked him up in the new edition of the DC Comics Encyclopedia, which seems to be updated to around the time of "Rebirth" (and good God is it a mess to make sense of), and apparently the original Anarky Lonnie Manchin is not the Anarky of the post-Flashpoint DCU, but the name and mask was used by an entirely different character with entirely different motivations...? There's a cryptic line in there saying he was inspired by a figure briefly glimpsed during the Zero Year. I...don't remember seeing any Anarkies during in the pages of Batman back then, nor of any of the tie-ins to "Zero Year" I read, but that doesn't mean anything, as now I am old and my mind is going.

Anyway, as with pretty much every other aspect of this title, if this book being published in, I don't know, 2006 or so, I would be so excited about it. I mean, Anarky teaming up with The Spoiler? That sounds amazing! But it is 2017, and the two characters, like the rest of the cast save maybe Batman (who isn't really in this issue), are just badly bowlderized versions of themselves, wearing worse costumes and more poorly drawn than usual.

Die Kitty Die: Hollywood or Bust #1 (Chapter House) The subversive nature of aspect of Archie Comics' Dan Parent, Fernando Ruiz and Rich Koslowski doing a high-concept parody of Archie and Harvey-style characters in a decidedly PG-13 narrative with some mildly exploitive cheesecake and some sex talk may be wearing off for some readers. For me, it started to wear off sometime during the second issue of the original miniseries, of which this is a sequel to (This is more of the same as the original series, so I'll likely drop it from my pull; as it's a $3.99 book).

It opens with a "reprint" of a classic Kitty comic, and then jumps to the present. After a quick and clumsy conversational recap of the events of the original series--in which the evil but bumbling publishers of a Sabrina, The Teenage Witch-like comics character named Kitty repeatedly try and fail to kill off the real Kitty in order to revive their flagging sales--we learn that Kitty is now hotter than ever. Naturally, there is interest in a Kitty movie, and so the publishers and Kitty herself head west. Meanwhile, a seemingly super-villainous character is trying to kill Kitty.

So you've got Dan Parent drawing a sexy, buxom witch, you've got a parody version of Riche Rich and you've got commentary on the comics and entertainment industry. And, as with each issue of the original series, there's a great J. Bone-drawn pin-up in the middle.

It's certainly not to everyone's taste, but I think the overall joke of the project is engaging enough to read--just not at $3.99 a pop forever. The original series was released in a collected, graphic novel format, and I'm interested in at least looking at that, as I wonder if maybe that isn't the better way to experience these comics, as if so often the case once comics reach this particular price point.

Justice League of America #7 (DC) If the previous seven issues of the series didn't convince you, here's some more evidence that JLoA writer loves the '90s, which would have likely made his recent-ish DC super-comics somewhat Geoff Johnsian in their eagerness to weave new narratives around continuity trivia and personal nostalgia...were not for that pesky Flashpoint/New 52 reboot, which really just serves to make that sort of thing really, really fucking annoying. (I talked about this a little in discussing his Midnighter, as its reliance on reordering and recycling other creators' creations made me somewhat uncomfortable; it was even worse in Midnighter and Apollo, which featured as its Big Bad Mark Waid and Howard Porter's Neron and Garth Ennis and John McCrea's Mawzir and Ace of Killers, both from Hitman, which was rebooted out of existence...although Ennis has written a couple of quasi-sequels, and Peter Tomasi has written a few weird references to it into a Batman story and a Superman story now. I don't want to get too far off track here, but what makes me so uncomfortable about it as the characters and concepts he often uses are specifically tied to specific creators; there's a difference, I think, between using a minor character or item from Hitman and say, using, Captain Cold or The Ultra-Humanite or Felix Faust).

Of course, that tendency in his writing is the sole reason I picked up this particular issue, after having accidentally dropped the book a few issues ago (I missed an issue, and then decided to just keep missing them, rather than trying to have my local comic shop re-order the one I missed). The issue features Terrorsmith, a villain-turned-anti-hero introduced by creators William Messner-Loebs and Greg LaRoque in Justice League America Annual #7, part of that summer's Bloodlines annuals crossover event (It was just recently reprinted in Wonder Woman and Justice League America Vol. 1). Terrorsmith made exactly one other appearance, in Showcase '94 #7, again by writer Loebs, but with different artists.

Like a lot of the New Blood characters, I felt he had a lot of potential, albeit unrealized potential (Hitman is really the only one who went on to all-around great t hings, although I really enjoyed Anima at the time). I wasn't crazy about his color scheme, but his personal appearance was transformed from a regular-looking blonde schmoe into the kind of character that might have appeared as a mad scientist or alien warlord in an old Hollywood serial, complete with sharp teeth and a Fu Manchu mustache. His power was that he could turn people into monsters just by touching them.

What exactly he's doing here isn't really clear. The Atom Ryan Choi, still wearing that stupid Arrow/Legends of Tomorrow inspired costume, and Killer Frost, are visiting the Museum of Unnatural History, looking at a possible lead on a cure to Frost's heat vampirism, and a redesigned Terrorsmith, who has lost his monstrous looks, and wears a hooded green cape that looks like the sort that Mr. Oz rocks and is also in the company of possibly illusory cat-like creatures with glowing eyes all the time, enters. He's looking for the skull of Glonth, one of the Parasites from the out-of-continuity Bloodlines event, at the behest of some female that talks to him from the other side of the mirror.

This is another head-scratching, you-can't-have-it-both-ways example of modern DC comics, where an issue is pretty much built around something that was purposely excised from continuity in an attempt to simplify the comics' shared setting. (They also tried to re-do Bloodlines in a miniseries which had almost nothing at all to do with the original, although a few characters had similar powers to those of the original New Bloods. It was garbage. I made it through the first issue and a half, I think.)

The rest of the characters make brief appearances and, despite the fight with a super-villain, this seems to be one of those breath-catching issues, of the sort that Johns used to write between his longer, more eventful JSA arcs. Orlando also uses Mr. Scarlet, the Alex Ross redesign of the old Fawcett character with the same name, as seen in Ross and Mark Waid's Kingdom Come (I'm not sure if this Mr. Scarlet appeared in the DCU before or not; there was a period where they were importing characters from Kingdom Come left and right a few years before Flashpoint.)

Like Detective, I have a feeling this is a comic book series whose writer would rather be working with the pre-Flashpoint (and/or the post-Doomsday Clock...?) continuity then the current, confusing one.

Lumberjanes #38 (Boom Studios) Ha, I think I liked the idea of the various woodland creatures suddenly all acting like jerks and pulling dumb pranks on the 'Janes and their parents better until I got to the various last page, which seems to reveal the true culprit, which I am guessing is supposed to be a particular trickster god figure with something of a career in comic books already. It should still be interesting to see how the girls deal with supernatural shenanigans of that kind while trying to hid it from their parents, which seems to be the plan they are going with and likely to stick with. Sure, it's a pretty sitcom-like tack to take, but that doesn't mean it won't also be fun.

Still adjusting to Ayme Sotuyo's art style.

Scooby-Doo Team-Up #26 (DC) The other day, a writer-about-comics of my acquaintance asked a question I have never once considered before: Is Honk-Kong Fooey racist? I have relatively limited experience with the character, based solely on re-runs of his short-lived 1974 Saturday morning cartoon show (Mostly on the USA channel in the early '80s, I want to say). I remembered he was voiced by Scatman Crothers, that he had a pretty damn amazing transformation sequence and a remarkably strong theme song (covered by Sublime on the 1995 album Saturday Morning: Cartoons' Greatest Hits, a pretty great album that I just listened to again recently and has aged quite well). Oh, and he was on the Scooby Doobies team in Laff-a-Lympics.

Of course, I hadn't yet reached double-digits in age the last time I watched either Hong-Kong Phooey or Laff-a-Lympics, so, if there was anything openly racist, or even just culturally insensitive about it, it wasn't anything I would have been likely to notice then. I went to YouTube to watch the theme song and, well...

Yeah, I could see that being somewhat problematic.

Penrod "Penry" Pooch is a walking, talking anthropomorphic dog with the job of janitor at the local police station,and as such he seems to be one-third of the police force, with Sarge (voiced by Joe E. Ross of Car 54, Where Are You?, and using his trademark "Ooh! Ooh!") and Rosemary, The Telephone Operator seemingly making up the other two-thirds. When Penry would overhear news of trouble, he would leap into his transformation sequence, emerging from a filing cabinet wearing a read gi and a mask and jumping into his Phooeymobile, which had the ability to transform into a boat or helicopter or whatever whenever he gave the little gong in it a Hong Kong Phooey chop.

While he technically knows kung fu, he learned it from The Hong Kong Book of Kung Fu, which also seems to have answer to every question in it somewhere, not unlike the Junion Woodchuck's Guide Book. The book was part of a correspondence-course, and I suspect that is one of the many, many clues in the narrative that this was a parody not only of the 1970s kung fu craze which also birthed Marvel's Iron Fist, a character the Internet has been talking about and/or freaking out a lot about recently, given his new Netflix show and that the '70s iteration of '20s action adventure tropes don't read in the 21st century the way they did in the past. I don't know if it was intentional, I'm assuming not, but Hong Kong Phooey being confident in his own martial arts prowess based on having read a mail-order book about kung fu can be read as a subversion (while I cringed at the that "chika chong chicka chong" part of the theme song and the gong noise, there may be potential in the character these days, specifically because of recent cultural criticism leveled at Hollywood's continued exoticification of Asia and Asians and various white-washing controversies).

But as heroes went, despite being declared the "number one super guy" in the theme song, HKP was fairly useless, and most of problems were solved and conflicts resolve through the actions of Spot, a striped cat who seemed to be a regular cat, albeit a very smart one. Re-watching episodes, as I started doing as I was writing this, thanks to a DVD from the library, I find myself incredibly upset by the fact that the title character is an anthropomorphic dog in a world of human beings. That kind of thing bugs me so much! It always has and always will. Scooby-Doo may be able to talk (with a speech impediment) and do some pretty human stuff, but he's still a dog, and treated as such in the majority of the Scooby cartoons.

Anyway, I suppose it's possible to tell a single-issue comic book story featuring the character teaming-up with Scooby-Doo and avoiding potential pitfalls, but it seems...challenging, to say the least, particularly since the format of Scooby-Doo Team-Up doesn't exactly allow writer Sholly Fisch to do much in the way of reinvention, but rather just make some off-hand jokes about the participating characters. So I was looking forward to this particular issue of the series more than pretty much issue to date, but mostly because I was so curious to see what Fisch might do with the character, and what, if any, the reaction would be.

Fish has Scooby and the Gang in the middle of being menaced by person-sized, fire-breathing ninja Chinese dragons in "Chinatown" somewhere, and so Velma calls a superhero for help on her cellphone. Rather than calling any of the man, many DC superheroes whose contact info must be in her phone by this point in the series, she calls Rosemary, the telephone operator (hard at work at a switchboard, which so boggled my mind that it took me a few seconds to recover, and then I spent a few minutes thinking about how switchboards worked, and if they even exist anymore).

Hong Kong Phooey goes through his transformation sequence, and he and Spot arrive on the scene. Hong Kong Phooey demonstrates his skills, which seems to distract the dragons, but doesn't really stop them, as he never actually kicks or chops any of them...hitting an opponent is not an aspect of the martial arts he has mastered. Eventually Mystery Inc. figures out what's what, destroys the dragons and, with some help from Spot, capture the criminal. Nothing really racist or even iffy occurred in the story, which really read more like a Scooby-Doo story featuring Hong Kong Phooey, then any kind of amalgamation of their narratives (Rosemary, for example, is in two panels, while Sarge is in just one).

Regular artist Dario Brizuela is MIA this issue, and Scott Jeralds is on hand instead. Jeralds's work is fine, and the characters all look like themselves, which is really the main thing in a comic like this. The dragons, though, as Jeralds seems to use some kind of computer cloning to make them look creepily exactly like one another, to the extent that they resemble, say, a pattern instead of a group.

Sun Bakery #3 (Image Comics) Is everyone reading this comic? I hope everyone is reading this comic. This issue has five more stories of various genre, length, tone and style by Corey S. Lewis, one of like three or four younger creators that I think everyone should keep their eyes on all the time. Three of the five are chapters in continuing narratives--"Bat Rider", "Dream Skills" and "Dead Naked"--while there are two brand-new narratives, at least one of which looks set to continue. And man, dig that cover! I don't even like or play video games, due to my advanced age, but now I kinda wanna play a Sun Bakery fighting game...

Wonder Woman #23 (DC) This is the surprisingly effective conclusion to "The Truth," or at least the climax, and, as such, is pretty dang close to the conclusion of writer Greg Rucka, and artist Liam Sharp and company's, run on the title. I'm extremely curious as to what happens following the end of their run, which looks like it just has two issues (one of which at least will be set in the past, and thus be part of a prequel-esque story that lead into this story) and maybe an annual left to go. I know what's next in the immediate future, a five-issue fill-in arc, but after that?

Pretty great cover, too. Sharp leaving is going to be a blow. It's really too damn bad that just as the world's attention will be turning to Wonder Woman in such a big way, the Wonder Woman title will be finishing up a 25-issue mega-arc by a fairly talented group of creators. Maybe, in retrospect, they shoulda waited a few moths to launch Wonder Woman as part of the "Rebirth" initiative...?

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