Thursday, May 04, 2017

Comic Shop Comics: May 3rd

Bane: Conquest #1 (DC Comics) Well, let's get this out of the way first:
Yes, Bane's new costume, which I am told was designed by series artist and Bane creator Graham Nolan himself, is indeed dumb. I can understand the desire to update the original design--of late, DC has tended to go for a combination of Nolan's original '90s design with the coat and pants of the Dark Knight Rises version, but I would have preferred more subtle tweaking. At the very least, I wish Nolan would have kept his nose hidden. Seeing Bane's nose all of a sudden like this just seems...weird, and wrong. Like if Spider-Man's latest costume had a nose cut-out in it, I guess. (I suspect that's why the cover of the first issue is a tight close-up of Bane's recognizable eye, rather than a reveal of his nose-baring new costume.)
And yes, original Bane henchman Bird is back too, and he has a dumb redesign as well, and he's upgraded from actual birds to mini-drones, apparently. I found this a little surprising, if only because writer Tom King and artist David Finch just reintroduced Bane's original henchmen in the previous Batman story arc, "I Am Bane," and they looked more-or-less similar to their original appearances. Bird had long hair, a bird and he did not dress like a G.I. Joe action figure, at least (Zombie's redesign is more thematic; he has Day of the Dead face painting or a tattoo, and his lips apparently sewn together; Trogg is unchanged).

None of that really matters though. Why?
Because Osoito, Bane's teddy bear from Pena Duro whose name should really be "Osito", returns as well!

And best of all, it turns out that he did not disappear into the shark-filled ocean along with the prison's warden as he appeared to near the end of the second act of Vengeance of Bane, but rather he survived!
And now Bane keeps him in a special glass enclosure, like the magic rose from Beauty and The Beast, and calls him brother.

That is fantastic.

So this is the first issue of a 12-part series starring Bane, written and drawn by the character's creators, Chuck Dixon and Graham Nolan. I'm assuming it's not going to do super-great in the current market, but it's still nice to see Dixon and Nolan working for DC again. Yes, the former's politics may be fairly odious (although on today's scrambled spectrum where Donald Trump is president of the United States of America, what seemed like fringe, right-wing weirdness now seems acceptable by comparison), but that guy sure can write Batman comics, and as long as Bane's conquest doesn't take him to Kenya searching for Barack Obama's secret birth place or have him breaking down the walls of Planned Parenthood clinics with his bare hands, I am willing to actively forget some of the dumber things Dixon might have said in public before.

It's somewhat unfortunate that this follows so close on the heels of "I Am Bane," though, not only because the characters are all so radically re-designed, as I confess I've no idea when exactly this is supposed to be happening, or even where. When Bane talks about "his" city, I wasn't entirely sure if he meant Gotham or somewhere on Santa Prisca, which in the New 52 he is apparently the warlord ruler of. I'm pretty sure it's Gotham, but man, I coulda used a dateline box and, if this is meant to be years ago, a narration box saying "years ago" at some point.

Dixon doesn't seem to have lost a step since the last time he wrote any Gotham or Batman characters at length, nor has Nolan, who is here inking himself and colored by Gregory Wright. The book does seem remarkably slight--it's only 20, rather than 22 pages--and relatively little seems to happen, aside from reintroducing the star and his supporting cast, which, on the heels of "I Am Bane," is perhaps more of a reminder than a reintroduction.

I'm curious to see where Dixon takes the character given the 220 pages left to go in the story, and it's hard to overemphasize how great it is to see Nolan's art on a comic book page again. I didn't always appreciate his work as much as I should have as a teenager, but that guy just has a really great line, and beyond reading his comic, I'm enjoying just opening it up again as I write this and taking in the way he draws cocked eyebrows, frowning faces and differing postures. It's a damn shame he's on a side book like this, instead of Batman or Detective, really.

That said, I'm going to trade-wait this one. It's a $3.99/20-page book, and as I said on Twitter the other day, I understand that a company like DC probably made a decision on pricing their monthly books a long time ago, but it's kind of too bad they moved to the $3.99/20 format for so much of their line just as Marvel's sales woes were becoming a thing, you know? Marvel's insane pricing isn't the sole factor for their current state of affairs--as I see it, it seems like an accumulation of a half-dozen different strategies that offered short-term benefits for the publisher all finally stopping working--but I do think it is a factor (It's why I moved to trade-only with Marvel comics). And now just seems like it would be a really great time for DC to be able to say they're "holding the line at $2.99," you know?

So rather than drop another $43.89 on a series that I know is going to end up in trade collection that can't possibly cost that much, I think I'll wait for the book shelf-ready version.

Plus, this first issue has a Kelley Jones cover...
...which I didn't get, and it's just not fair to ask a guy to choose between Kelley Jones and Graham Nolan covers. The trade will almost certainly have both.

Batman #22 (DC) Quick question: Does anyone, and I mean anyone–not you personally, per se, but like maybe someone you know, or at least know of–understand what the fuck is going on with DC's continuity...? Like, at all?

I know it's supposedly in flux at the moment, and that thsi story "The Button" is part of that, but this issue is set primarily in the temporary universe of Flashpoint, which the script helpfully reminds us wasn't an alternate reality, but a "real" reality re-written by The Flash and The Reverse-Flash when Barry Allen attempted to stop his mother's murder happening via time travel. But! That universe, or at least the part with Batman in it, was also "bottled" by Telos in Convergence, before Barry and Pandora and now I guess Doctor Manhattan smooshed a couple of realities together to reboot the DC Universe into the New 52-iverse. And yet here's the world as it existed during Flashpoint, a visit-able place.

As Barry notes, that shouldn't be possible, and that apparently someone is "holding" it and other points of DC's ever-rewriteable continuity (the original version of the Justice League's founding, the events of Identity Crisis) in place for nefarious purposes, but that doesn't really make any sense at all, does it?

And, of course, as soon as Barry and Batman cosmic treadmill their way out of the Batcave of Flashpoint's Dr. Batman, the Flashpoint-iverse seemingly dissolves into white nothingness, like frames of film being burned away into the white-ness of Zero Hour's un-made reality.

Anyway, this penultimate issue of the four-part storyline that quite clearly isn't going to resolve the current state of affairs but just provide one more puzzle piece, is scripted by Joshua Williamson from a plot by Williamson and King, and penciled and inked by Jason Fabok (whose art looks better here than I've ever seen it....maybe colorist Brad Anderson deserves some of the credit?). It features Batman and The Flash hanging around with Dr. Batman in the Batcave for no real reason, occasionally fighting an alliance of Amazons and Atlanteans who are coming to kill Dr. Batman for reasons. Then they see REverse-Flash running through time and space holding the button from Watchmen the end.

DC Comics Bombshells #26 (DC) This issue feels much more like an anthology of short, digital-first chapters than many of the previous ones. The first ten pages, which I am going to guess are drawn by Carmen Carnero and Richard Ortiz, is simply a silent check-in with almost all of the characters introduced so far. Some are given only a panel apiece, while others are given a whole page. These panels are all set to "music," which is really just lyrics about the characters appearing as lettering with music note icons around them. It's pretty weird, actually, but a nice sequence in terms of taking stock of the various characters, many of whom have been off-panel for the entire length of the previous story arc, set in North Africa.

That's followed by ten pages that I assume are drawn by Racael Stott, showing various characters leaving Atlantis and heading for a new, Russian front in the Bombshells-ivere's version of World War II, and, finally, a ten-page sequence in which Supergirl meets Lex Luthor, by regular Bomshells contributor Mirka Andolfo. That middle section has a panel of Raven making out with a sinister twin version of herself. I'm curious to see what that's all about; I really like Marguerite Bennert and character designer Ant Luca's version of that particular character, and the folktale/fairy tale Beauty and The Beast origin that Bennett gave her upon her initial introduction.

Deathstroke #18 (DC) Pencil artist Joe Bennett and Norm Rapmund join writer Christopher Priest in almost wrapping up his 18-issue portrait-by-way-of-story arc of DC Comics' most famous assassin, in a chapter that I assumed would be a conclusion of sorts, one that ties together plot points and elements that go all the way back to the first of the book's two first issues (Rebirth, remember). Priest has been more-or-less masterful in his plotting on this book; if anything, he has been maybe too intricate in that plotting, as everything seems to tie together.

That said, the issue does end with a cliffhanger, suggesting that an enraged Jericho has perhaps killed both his father Deathstroke and his sister Rose (he hasn't) and featuring a next issue box reading "TITANS, FINALLY: THE TRUTH REVEALED!"

That would seem to suggest that the conclusion of this storyline will play out in the upcoming Deathstroke/Titans/Teen Titans crossover and, man, I don't know that I've got time, interest and money for all that noise...

Dragon Ball Super Vol. 1 (Viz Media) Hey, there's a new Dragon Ball manga! It's by Toyotarou, who is credited with the art while creator Akira Toryiama is credited with the story. I am assuming this ties in to parts of the Dragon Ball story that went on after I stopped reading the manga and paying attention to the cartoon (the end of the Boo saga), as I recognize one of the characters from a newer DVD I've seen at the library, and there's a point at which an editor's note says "If you'd like to enjoy the party in full, check out the Battle of Gods movie!" Also, there are two, possibly three more phases beyond "Super Saiyan Three" achieved.

I'm only about halfway through it, and will likely write a full review of it elsewhere later, but for now I just wanted to mention one aspect of the manga (and Dragon Ball in general) in relation to a certain Marvel comic book series I've spent most of my blogging time over the past week writing about (and I promise I'll finish and post soon-ish).

That would be Civil War II, written by one-time cartoonist Brian Michael Bendis and drawn by David Marquez. There's this one sequence in the series' one big superhero brawl that I had to read three times or so to make sense of. Here it is:
I stole that image from Abhay's Khosla's multi-post grappling with the series at The Savage Critics. He wrote about the problems with the above action scene in this post if, for some reason, you haven't read his series yet.

One thing that happens all the time in various Dragon Ball comics and cartoons is that a super-powerful character will punch or kick an opponent really hard and send them flying, and the puncher or kicker will, because they are super-fast and can fly, will then chase the body they sent reeling, following up with a series of blows or, in some cases, out-running them completely in order to catch them with another blow. It's pretty cool, and there are literally scores of examples that any artist or artist/writer team could steal and plunk down in their superhero comics (reading Akira Toriyama comics in general, and trying to steal some of his moves, would vastly improve the work of just about any American comics artist trying to draw superheroes fighting one another).

Marquez does not do that here, although I think he's trying to do something similar. In that first panel, Blue Marvel has just backhanded teenage superhero Nova into the sky (in an effort to prevent Nova and others from infringing on Captain Marvel Carol Danvers' right to illegally imprison and detain an American citizen for literally no reason at all, although that's really neither here nor there, mechanically).

Blue Marvel then flies up in pursuit of Nova (in panel two) and in panel three, those two talking streaks of blue light are presumably the pair of them, although what happens in space (like, if Blue Marvel does a full Dragon Ball on Nova or not) doesn't come up. Those three panels are all that are spared for that match-up.

It is so bad.  Like, just in terms of story-telling mechanics.

Wait, you know what? Maybe Blue Marvel doesn't hit Nova. Because he did have Luke Cage by the throat in the preceding panel (that's Cage's body being flung away in the first panel, and being tackled by Sasquatch in the final panel of the sequence above). I had assumed Marvel back handed Nova, or hit him with Cage's body, sending Nova flying, but maybe Nova is just rocketing away to escape Blue Marvel, and Blue Marvel is casually tossing Cage aside in order to pursue him...?

I have read these panels so many times and still can't make sense out of what, precisely, is happening in them!

Anyway, Dragon Ball comics, even when not drawn by Toriyama himself, sure do have a lot of great action scenes involving super-powered combatants hitting one another. Marvel's Civil War II does not.

Empowered and The Soldier of Love #3 (Dark Horse Comics) The thrilling–well, entirely predictable but still fun–conclusion of the first Empowered miniseries, drawn by the amazing Karla Diaz, a name everyone should remember (and an artist writer Adam Warren will hopefully call on again at some point, as she's perfect for his characters, their world and the general tone of Empowered).

Nightwing #20 (DC) Aw, there are a couple of incredibly, surprisingly sweet moments in this issue of writer Tim Seeley's Nightwing, this issue drawn by Javier Fernandez. Like all the best Nightwing stories, this one is about Dick Grayson, Robin and Batman–not necessarily all of the individuals currently in those roles (although in this case it is), but those roles themselvs, since Dick Grayson has always been Dick Grayson, and has also been Robin, Batman and, most often, Nightwing.

The specifics of the story involving Dr. Hurt and his "Blade of Nothing," as well as his prep work for some coming disaster (presumably the Watchmen thing, as about half of the DC Comics I read are constantly talking about something terrible coming, often involving alternate realities on some level) are left necessarily vague, but there are nice, heroic moments for Nightwing, Robin, Shawn and even Deathwing and some all-around great character work. Tomasi gets a lot of well-deserved credit for making Damian Wayne a lovable little bastard, but Seeley also does a pretty fantastic job of playing up the character's insufferable bravado as a little kid's mask of his own vulnerability and genetic allergy to expressions of genuine emotion.

I honestly thought the reboot was going to put me off Nightwing forever, in the same way it seemed to ruin Tim Drake and much of the broader Batman family, but it's been 20 issues now, and after the somewhat rocky first story arc, Seeley's Nightwing has been pretty damn good...even surprisingly so.

Reggie and Me #5 (Archie Comics) Oh thank God Vader survives! He does have an out-of-body, near-death experience where he floats around Riverdale talking to Hot Dog, who is also outfitted with wings and a halo...despite not being dead or near-dead, as Vader himself is.

Sorry to spoil that aspect of the ending, but, if you're like me, then you were pretty damn worried about it. It's not like "Will Captain America be the Nazi dictator of Marvel's version of the United States of America when the miniseries is over...?" kind of un-suspenseful, non-cliffhanger cliffhanger; Vader was a brand-new character introduced at teh beginning of the series who got hit by a car in the penultimate issue upon realizing the truth about his owner/master/human–he could have totally died!

While writer Tom DeFalco and artist Sandy Jarrell's Reggie and Me has been my least favorite of the new Archie series (except for maybe Betty and Veronica, which just sort of disappeared into the ether, like that scary Sabrina comic or Afterlife With Archie, only more quickly), in large part because it was the least funny. Credit where credit's due, though, they do a good job with the one-two-three emotional punch at the end of this series, only one aspect of which I've spoiled.

I mean, I like funny, evil Reggie Mantle--well, lovable jerk Reggie Mantle, I guess is most accurate--more than troubled Reggie, but this was still rather satisfying.

Superman #22 (DC) The title character, the guy with his name and picture on the cover*, only appears on the last two pages of this issue, which mostly features Lois Lane encountering...difficulties. She does a combination of battling and investigating, aided by a souvenir from her trip to the secret Batcave on the moon in the series' first story arc and Batman's abandoned Batmobile, as she discovers that Farmer Cobb, Kathy and their cow aren't the only ones around who aren't quite what they seem.

There's a neat, paranoid twist to the story, which I don't want to mention here, as Lois' dealing with it fills 18 of the book's 20 pages, but I guess it's becoming increasingly clear why the Kents will be moving from Hamilton County to Metropolis in the near future. It has nothing to do with the long commute to the Daily Planet's offices.

Doug Mahnke penciled this issue, and he only had two inker this time: Jaime Mendoza and Ray McCarthy.

*Unlike poor Patrick Gleason, who co-wrote the issue with Peter Tomasi, but whose name got left off the cover.

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