Thursday, June 15, 2017

Comic Shop Comics: June 14th

Betty and Veronica #3 (Archie Comics) Writer/artist Adam Hughes fills his issues of Betty and Veronica with jokes, but I have to admit that the part of the comic I found most humorous was in the fine print on the inside front cover, wherein it was stated that the book is "published monthly."

Hughes' Betty and Veronica #1 was released in July of 2016, the second issue was released in November of last year and, well, now it is June. At the pace that Hughes has been creating these pages (or, rather, not creating pages), Betty and Veronica is really more of a bi-annual series than a monthly.

Which isn't to say the comic isn't any good, of course. Hughes' style and reputation for drawing sexy, buxom super-ladies might seem like a poor fit for a book starring two 16-year-old teens, but for the most part he's done a weird but wholly appropriate Norman Rockwell-doing-comics style, with colorist Jose Villarrubia's furthering the comparison to a painting.

The conflict between the two title characters, as you will likely have forgotten, was over the fate of Riverdale's venerable soda shop Pop's; Veronica's father plans to take it over and turn it into a faux Starbucks, and he's enlisted his daughter to help. Betty is trying to raise the money necessary to save the shop. This issue features the climax, and it is resolved precisely as a reader might expect, given the fact that things keep escalating to seemingly irreconcilable levels.

I'm genuinely curious about the future of this book, as this is the end of Hughes' tale and it is, after all, only three issues (In retrospect, it might have been better for Archie to publish this as an over-sized special when all the pages are in). The publisher's habit of late has been to collect five issues at a time in their trade collection, and include an issue from a different but related title as a preview. This, then, is too short. But there's no ad for a next issue, either, so I'm not sure if the plan is to keep having Hughes produce these things twice a year or so or if this is the end of what is actually a miniseries. If they collect it, and they should because that's really the best way to read a story like this, then how will they fill out all that extra space? Reprints of classic stories? 80 pages of process and a cover gallery? I guess we'll see.

Anyway, this was a good issue in a surprisingly good run that was so late its quality barely matters.

Dark Days: The Forge #1 (DC Comics) Despite my trepidation--the house ad asks "What Is The Dark Multiverse?" and fun fact, I kinda wish DC would leave the Multiverse alone for a decade or two--this turned out to be a lot of fun. How good it ultimately is will depend on the context that we don't know yet, but evaluated as is, the first part of a series of teasers building toward a big event series, it is certainly effective. It got me really excited, more excited about any particular DC Universe project since, I don't know, maybe Multiversity? DC Universe: Rebirth #1?, and eager to see what happens next.

Writer Scott Snyder is working with frequent collaborator James Tynion here, and a trio of artists: Jim Lee, Andy Kubert and John Romita Jr. Seeing all three guys working on the same issue is a nice reminder that DC actually does have some really good and really popular artists willing to work for them, it's just that two-thirds of them don't seem capable of keeping a regular schedule, so it's easy to forget that the publisher can occasionally have Jim Lee or Andy Kubert draw something for them.

My first thought while reading, which came somewhere between an illustrated portion of Carter Hall's journal and a brief Batman/Aquaman team-up, was that I kind of wish this is what reading Justice League was like. You know, some of DC's biggest heroes involved in big adventures--this one tracing its origins back to at least ancient Egypt, if not the dawn of homo sapiens--and able to access the entire history of DC Comics for building blocks. You know, like Batman and Superman being able to call up Mister Terrific or Mister Miracle when they need a favor, or the Dark Knight having a secret cave within his secret cave, where he can store mysterious metal artifacts (The reason the series is going to be called Metal and that these preludes all have sub-titles suggesting metal-working will become extremely obvious once you start reading; hell, just reading the above sentences probably already made it so to you).

Of course, given that this story is at least partially built on stuff from Snyder's run on Batman, this couldn't have been, like, the issue of Justice League #1 that was released in August of 2011, or even the knew Justice League that was published around the time of the "Rebirth" initiative (well, maybe it could have), but this does do what one might want a Justice League comic to do.

So: Something big and terrible is coming, something that Batman has been looking into for years, and keeping secret from allies like Superman, even as they have helped him. It seems to involve the core of the earth, and mysterious, metallic items of power. This is probably the something that Tynion had Tim Drake intuit and question Batman about not too long ago in the pages of Detective, rather than the "something" I assumed it would be, the DC Vs. Watchmen thing in the works forever now (although it seems pretty likely that the "three Jokers" thread from DC Universe: Rebirth, and maybe some of the intimations that there really was a Golden Age of superheroes after all will be explored if not resolved in this series).

While researching and preparing to deal with that something, Batman crosses paths with the aformentioned heroes. Meanwhile, Ganthet sends Green Lantern Hal Jordan to the Batcave, where he's violently met by Duke Thomas. They find a secret cave, and, at its ends, an unexpected character. Earlier, on his lunar Batcave, Batman and Mister Terrific open a vault to reveal another unexpected character. One of them has already been spoiled by the promotional material; the other I won't reveal, because the surprise was such that it really excited me personally (and that is probably only a spoiler if you know my favorite DC super-people very, very well).

The most frustrating aspect of the book, for me at least, was the inclusion of Carter Hall, which means "Hawkman." Snyder's conception of Hawkman seems to mirror that of Geoff Johns' prior to the reboot, and while that reading of Hawkman is probably the best one, it means fucking Hawkman is involved in this story and I honestly have no idea what is going on with Hawkman in the post-Flashpoint DCU (which is what happens when you put Rob Liefeld on a character, I guess; a whole lot of people will do their damnedest to ignore it). Since there's at least one character from the new Earth-2 in this, it's possible that this Hawkman, who sure seems to be the pre-Flashpoint Hawkman, might be a Hawkman from there but, again, I haven't been keeping up with what's been going on with the various Earth-2 titles, on account of them being terrible. I read a little Death of Hawkman (also terrible). Sooooooo...I don't know...?

There's a cameo from someone who might be Immortal Man, and maybe Vandal Savage, but, again, between all the rejiggerings, it's pretty impossible to recognize characters based solely on the way they are drawn. Shrug.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to whatever comes next here, and hope that it's not a thunderous disappointment.

Detective Comics #958 (DC) The James Tynion Loves The Nineties-era of 'Tec continues, as a badly bleeding Nomoz stumbles into the city, seeking out Jean-Paul Valley. Who is Nomoz? The short, squat, hairy guy from 1992's Batman: Sword of Azrael, which was drawn by then up-and-coming artist Joe Quesada (whatever happened to that guy?). Given that Tynion just re-introduced Jean-Paul Valley, Azrael and The Order of St. Dumas in a radically different way in Batman and Robin Eternal, you may be forgiven for being surprised as hell to see a dude from the original show up; I guess that explains why Tynion spends a two-page montage trying to reconcile the two dueling Azrael stories into one. Consider this example 45,000 of why DC's constant, continual continuity-through-in-story-cosmic-events is so terrible: No one, perhaps especially the creators working for the publisher, actually wants to ever reboot away the past and really start over fresh, so we keep getting old characters and plot-lines reintroduced in altered fashion that present the worst of both worlds, things that are unfamiliar to new-er readers that need clumsy info-dump passages to explain and are familiar to older readers presented in ways that scan "wrong."

That's basically what this particular title has been built around.

Anyway, Nomoz is here to warn Jean-Paul and the Justice League of Batman Lieutenants that The Order has made a super-robot that is in town to kill Valley and others, and they need to stop it. By my count, The Order is the fifth secret society to attack Gotham in some way shape or form in the relatively short time that Tynion has been writing 'Tec (The Colony, The Victim Syndicate, The League of Shadows, The League of Assassins).

Alvaro Martinez is the pencil artist and Raul Fernandez is the inker for this particular issue. I was quite taken aback by the appearance of Nomoz, in large part because I thought the way he looked was a result of the way Quesada drew, and not that being a hairy dwarf-like creature was, like, part of his origin (I love that they put him in the Ben Grimm-invented disguise of a trench coat and wide-brimmed hat, though, which has gotta be so suspicious looking in the year 2017 to draw even more attention than what might look like a four-foot tall, 200-pound wolfman.

I rather liked the way they drew Valley in his street clothes though, man-bun and all. He really looks like himself but updated in a way that the characters don't always do.

I don't know; as I mentioned previously, I'm really kinda torn about this book. I want to like it, and I think I share the writer's affection for (most of) the characters, but I never actually enjoy an issue. I actually meant to drop it last week, but forgot to tell my local comics shop-owner. And then this week, I heard about an upcoming Tim Drake-focused story, resolving that plotline. With the next change/reboot on the horizon, I find myself kinda torn between keeping up with favorite characters like Cassandra and Tim, and the more sensible desire to not keep throwing $2.99 in DC's direction just to be disappointed. I mean, I could always keep up via trades-from-the-library, as I do with most Marvel books.

And this concludes another thrilling segment of Caleb's-stream-of-conscious-writing-about-his-comics-buying-habits.

Gotham Academy: Second Semester #10 (DC) Two-Face and Olive vs. The Penguin! Kyle vs. Two-Face! Maps and Detective Club vs. The Terrible Trio! It's still not over, but I'm totally ready for it to be!

Legion of Super-Heroes/Bugs Bunny Special #1 (DC) The most obvious precedent for these DC/Looney Tunes crossover specials would seem to be the DC/Hanna-Barbera ones of the recent past, but based on the two that were released this week, there's a key difference. While the Hanna-Barbera specials featured altered versions of the cartoon characters (ala DC's four-book Hanna-Barbereboot line, complete with varying degrees of alteration from character to character), these seem to feature fairly straight versions of the Looney Tunes characters. At least, that is the case with these first two and, in particular, the Bugs Bunny who appears here; aside from the appearance of his Super-Bugs/Super-Rabbit persona, this is basically a Bugs plucked right out of the cartoons.

Writer Sam Humphries is paired with artist Tom Grummett for the 30-page lead feature...and hey, Tom Grummett drawing DC superheroes again! There's something to be excited about right there! I guess it takes place around a particular LOSH story or storyline, or, if not, it is from a particular time period, and it's only a gag that ties it to a particular story. Brainiac's girlfriend Supergirl, so dressed as to place her in the late '70s or early '80s, is in a coma and can only be cured by a rare element from the past. So Brainy sends his computer helper Computo 2 back in time to get Superboy, but this Computo, jealous of Supergirl, instead grabs another Smallville farmer: Bugs Bunny, who is working on his baby carrot farm (he has a few special carrots stored away to grant him temporary super-powers, which he plans to use to harvest his field when the time is right).

In the future, he doesn't get along with the Legion, and when Validus attacks, he takes one of those carrots to become Super-Bugs, who here looks like post-Flashpoint Superman, but with Bugs Bunny's head. If that sounds familiar, you're remembering 1943's "Super-Rabbit," wherein a scientist feeds lab rabbit Bugs a specially treated carrot, turning him into a Superman parody.

Humphries is essentially writing a LOSH parody, wherein the super-teens occasionally fall into silent panels where their thought balloons reveal their simultaneous angsting and asterisks and editor's notes are used for gag purpose, into which he imports the cartoon Bugs Bunny, who uses a greatest hits version of his repertoire on them (while one of their number watches him closely, cataloging his apparent superpowers, like telepathy and teleportation).

There's an eight-page back-up entitled "Tales of The Legion of Super-Heroes" by Juan Manuel Ortiz that...well, it's an odd story. I read the Martian Manhunter/Marvin The Martian issue first, which made this seem odder. I guess the idea in the back-ups is to do the reverse of the lead stories; that is, instead of plunking Looney Tunes characters into DC superhero narratives, plunking DC superheroes into Looney Tunes narratives. At least, that was the case in the Martian special. Here though, Ortiz basically just re-tells the plot of the lead story, in a different style.

That style is a mash-up of the expected Looney Tunes style--here Bugs is wearing a costume more closely resembling the one from Super-Rabbit, although with some tweaks that are likely allowable now that Warner Bros owns both Bugs Bunny and Superman--and that of the a stiff, Jonny Quest/Sea Lab era cartoon for the Legionnaires, who here are just three in number: Brainiac, Ultra Boy and Lighting Lass. It's visually interesting, but otherwise kind of pointless; certainly, there are some gags in here that aren't in the lead story (like Bugs planting a kiss on a shocked Ultra Boy, or shoving a giant stick of dynamite in Validus' mouth), but otherwise this just reads like a slightly different version of the story we just read.

Martian Manhunter/Marvin The Martian Special #1 (DC) Writers Steve ORlando and Frank J. Barbiere get the most obvious of all of the various DC superheroes/Looney Tunes team-ups (at least without dipping too low into the depths of DC's character catalog; certainly Elmer Fudd hunting Captain Carrot or Hoppy The Marvel Bunny, or Taz meeting Tasmanian Devil would be at least as obvious as this particular pairing).

Their plot is a particularly straight one, and it wouldn't take too much imagination to remove Marvin, who J'onn charmingly calls "M'arvinn" throughout, and add another, generic martian character and tell the same essential story. When J'onn J'onnz receives an encrypted message from a fellow Martian, he builds a teleportation device to bring that Martian to Earth. It turns out to be a Martian from a different Mars elsewhere in the Multiverse, one who insists that Earth must be destroyed. J'onn disagrees, and they spend the rest of the story at cross-purposes, with J'onn trying to convince M'arvinn not to destroy Earth, all the while struggling against Earthlings' inherent fear of a powerful alien like himself.

Marvin's personality is pretty much in tact, but it's a remarkably serious story, and one that Orlando and Barbiere really over-tell at some points, with the character's literally laying out their differing points-of-view by telling them to one another, and then J'onn re-stating them via narration boxes. J'onn defeats Marvin, and the strategy he uses is one that the writers crib from near the climax of the Keith Giffen and J.M. Matteis' five-year Justice League run ("The Mayavana," which J'onn used on the rampaging Despero). I'm never sure where to draw the line between homage and appropriation with DC super-comics like this, as it's not wrong to borrow from older stories given that it is the publisher who owns all this stuff, but, as with the many endless uses of minor Alan Moore plot-points, such an appropriation seems not cool, even if it's legally and/or ethically acceptable. (It's not like there's an asterisk or some sort of dialogue noting where this came from to make it clear that it is an homage, you know?)

Lopresti's artwork similarly plays the Looney Tunes characters straight. His costume is altered, naturally, but not so much that he's at all unrecognizable; rather it just looks like Marvin changed clothes and found some shoes that fit him. Even his vehicles and accessories look like compromises between cartoon design and DC Universe realism. For example, there's a moment where he threatens the Earth with "The Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator and it is drawn to simultaneously resemble a stick of dynamite and bit of Kirby-style tech.

The back-up feature, by writer Jim Fanning and artist John Loter, is a much more interesting and much more fun story, and it's maybe a shame that it got only ten pages vs. the preceding story's 30 but, on the other hand, one of the problems with that opening story is that it was too long, whereas this one filled its space just right. It is drawn in the traditional Looney Tunes style, meaning that Marvin looks exactly as you would expect, as does his tech and his subordinate, green dog Agent K-9.

J'onn looks funny, as a cartoon character should. He's drawn in his frankly weird-ass current costume (which has a cut-out for his abs?), and may be the worst of all Martian Manhunter costumes (I didn't like the black body sheath one, but I confess to preferring that over this), but he's given a big, bulky, almost priapic shape, and pupils within his red eyes. J'onn with pupils, even when he has red eyes, is always a strange-looking thing to me, at least in his post-Crisis appearances. That particular element helps him carry off a sometimes mischievous look, which is important here as he's essentially cast in the Bugs Bunny/Daffy Duck role.

As for the story, J'onn finds a fellow Martian on a plastic, asteroid-like platform, prepping to destroy Earth. He swoops in and introduces himself as a Martian, noting that he can prove it by demonstrating all of his many Martian powers. Marvin decides to first steal J'onn's powers before destroying the world, but to do so he must find J'onn's weakness. No, not fire; chocolate cream sandwich cookies, naturally. Don't worry, the good Martian defeats the bad Martian, and he does so in a way not completely unlike the way in which the first story concludes, only here the trickery is applied in a more familiar, Looney Tunes-like form than anything so elaborate as a psychic dream world trap.

Wonder Woman #24 (DC) Well, it took 24 issues, but they have officially lost me. I am now confused as to which events are taking place of which of the two timelines. This one is labeled "Godwatch," and is drawn by the great Bilquis Evely, so I assume it is in the past timeline, but it seems to be an epilogue to the previous issue, which was set in the current timeline...? So I guess maybe I forgot something that happened in the previous chapter of "Godwatch," or the events of the two current storylines are intentionally echoing one another...?

Well, whatever. I think this all ends with one more issue, so I think I lasted a pretty long time...certainly longer than I expected myself to, especially once it began to be clear that writer Greg Rucka was intentionally entwining the two timelines so that the earlier one informed the later one.


John Q said...

How accessible would you say the Dark Days book is to someone who hasn't kept up with DC for a while?

Bram said...

Betty & Veronica gets a three-issue TP, and no #4's been solicited.

Caleb said...


I am probably the worst person in the world to answer this, but...I think so. The 2-5 characters I didn't recognize were ones I don't think I was meant to recognize, and it's all pretty self-explanatory. Like, The Hawkman business is only confusing if, like me, you are trying to keep what's canonical and what's not straight. So if you come in cold, here's Carter Hall just laying out what you need to know about him. The other players and their deals are all pretty self-explanatory; like, everyone knows who they are and, if you don't (like, Duke Thomas, for example), he'll tell you who he is.


Huh. Well, that makes sense, even if it's a departure from the rest of their line. Thanks!