Friday, June 23, 2017

Comic Shop Comics: June 22nd

All-Star Batman #11 (DC Comics) Alfred Pennyworth hang glides to the rescue of Master Bruce in this week's issue, so you're probably going to want to pick this one up.

Archie #21 (Archie Comics) Mark Waid has been writing comic books for a really long time now, so it really shouldn't come as a surprise at this point, but jeez, he's really good at it. This particular issue of Archie was one that really impressed--or re-impressed, I suppose I should say--just how good Waid is at it.

This issue is the second part of the "Over The Edge" story arc, one that is meant to be notable enough that it has the title on the cover and everything. There were some parts about the initial chapter that I found wanting, mostly because of how artificial they seemed, but the ending involved a horrible three-way car crash that sent vehicles over a cliff, and the marketing promised that the lives of one of the characters would be changed forever as a result.

So one way of looking at the storyline? Genuine tragedy interrupting the regular dramedy of Archie.

Waid structures this issue to reinforce that, setting up a series of vignettes featuring supporting characters getting up to what might seem like typical shenanigans, only to have each of these four scenes interrupted when the character receives a phone call that makes them drop everything. So, for example, Jughead is trying to work off his debt with Pop as a waiter, Dilton has Moose helping him test a new invention and so on. The place they are all rushing off to is, of course, the hospital, where one of their three friends involved in the accident is pretty badly, flat-lining hurt.

It's a very effective strategy, and Waid's current artistic collaborator on the book, Pete Woods, sells both the "regular" teen comedy of the opening scenes and the dramatic reveals of who's okay and who's hurt and the high emotions extremely well. It's really hard to get too worried about any 75+-year-old comic book character that a publisher has such a multi-media investment in, but Waid and Woods sure do their damnedest.

Batman #25 (DC) This follows right on the heels of a pretty big moment in Bat-history--even if that history was just rebooted six years ago--in which Batman got down on one bat head-shaped knee pad and proposed to Catwoman. Batman narrates, and, as is revealed on the very last page, he's actually telling the story of "The War of Jokes and Riddles" to Catwoman while the pair are lying in bed, apparently because the events of said war are meant to reveal something about him that no one else knows.

But the bulk of this over-sized, $3.99 issue takes place during an ill-defined past; Batman says he was coming off his first year, so this is either near the end of his post-Flashpoint "Year One" or the beginning of his "Year Two" (No Robins are present, which is curious, given that he had four of them in just the first five years of his seven or eight year long career).

As the title of the story, and the cover and all of the marketing has made clear, this is about a struggle between The Riddler and The Joker. I believe I've mentioned previously that such a match-up doesn't really seem "fair" to me,  as The Joker is in a completely different class of Batman villains than the  Riddler. The Joker is in the uppermost echelon, and is a big enough deal that he occasionally fights other superheroes (although, now that I stop and think about it, aside from that bit at the beginning of "Endgame," I'm not sure we've seen the post-Flashpoint Joker cross paths with Superman or any other super-people who operate on the other side of the Gotham city limits). The Riddler, at best, is a second-tier Bat-villain.

That said, in the last five or six years or so, Scott Snyder has gone to some lengths to try and rehabilitate The Riddler into a genuine threat, even using him as the villain of his epic "Zero Year," but then, he's also made The Joker a bigger, scarier threat--in large part by simply using him somewhat sparingly, and somehow convincing everyone else at DC to use him sparingly (Meanwhile, The Scarecrow, Bane, The Penguin and especially Ra's al Ghul seemingly show up somewhere at least once a month).

Writer Tom King does a somewhat convincing job of making the pair seem like they might actually be in conflict...and that The Riddler might actually survive it for a little while. He has The Riddler approach The Joker and try to draw a parallel between himself and the Clown Prince of Crime, noting that both The Joker's raison d'etre and his own are somewhat soured by Batman's continued existence, as Batman is the constant, disappointing answer to his riddles just as he is the unsatisfactory punchline to The Joker's jokes (The Joker, in this iteration, has lost his ability to laugh, and seemingly even smile; Riddler diagnoses this as his need to kill Batman, which doesn't feel right to me personally, but could be in keeping with Grant Morrison's version of the character, who assumes a new identity and motif of sorts with every crime spree, something Snyder has carried on).

The Joker decline the proposed alliance, despite Riddler's seemingly correct prediction that if they don't ally themselves with one another they will go to war, by shooting The Riddler in the gut.

The part that felt most off to me, however, was when The Riddler escaped police custody, presumably for the first time since the end of "Zero Year" (I guess he wasn't sentenced to Arkham Asylum immediately?). He does something much more Joker-y or Mr. Zsasz-esque than anything I've ever seen The Riddler attempt, and it felt really wrong and off...especially given the way he manages to escape the SWAT team waiting outside for him with rifles pointed at him in a more traditional, Riddler-y way.

Luckily, this story has been assigned to Mikel Janin, the better of the King's two frequent artistic collaborators on the book (by a long shot). I'm not a big fan of his work, and seeing him get to draw pretty much Batman's entire Rogues Gallery doesn't thrill me in the same way that the prospect of another artist drawing this story or one like it might* (that was among the most fun parts of The Long Halloween and Hush, for example), but despite the rocky start, this is an interesting enough story that I want to see it play out, even if it's more in a I-want-to-know-what-happens way than an I-can't-wait-to-see-what-this-looks-like kind of way.

DC Comics Bombshells #29 (DC) When Lois Lane first lays eyes on Supergirl, Supergirl is surrounded by stars. Lois' first words to her are "Oh, um, wow," and she continues to stumble over her words as the two of them lock eyes. When the time comes for three fliers and three non-powered human beings to escape Hugo Strange's Soviet lab, every super-person grabs a normal human being, and it is Lois that ends up in Supergirl's strong arms, gazing up at her.

This being Bombshells, where a good 50-75% of all of the characters are lesbians, I think it's a pretty safe bet that writer Marguerite Bennett and whichever of the two artists drew this section of the book were definitely implying that Lois is head-over-heels for  Supergirl, and the feeling is more than likely mutual.

That strikes me as so damn weird given that Supergirl is--in the "real" DCU and most other iterations--Superman's cousin. I know that's not the case here, because Bombshell Superman is introduced like two pages later, and he is apparently some kind of clone of Supergirl (just as Power Girl is, only in his case I believe he's meant to be a human with Kryptonian genes infused with his own), and while it's easy to see how Bennett would arrive at Lois, who has a multidimensional thing for Superman, liking Supergirl in this continuitiverse where pretty much everyone is a lesbian, it still feels a little weird to me on, like, an emotional level, knowing that Supergirl is her husband's teenage cousin on so many other of the infinite Earths.

While a lot of times Bombshells reads and feels like Internet fan-fiction in comic book format--that "ships fighing Nazis" premise is actually one of the book's many selling points--I think this budding relationship is the one that reads and feels like that the hardest.

What else happened? Oh, a super-catfight between Supergirl and Power Girl (the former of whom is rather scantily clad) and the intro of Bombshell Superman, here romantically paired with Power Girl, and his sweet, old time-y strongman handlebar mustache.

There has been precious little attention paid to the male Bombshells in this series, which is fair, given that Superman and Batman dominate all the other Elseworlds-esque comics DC publishes, but it's fun to see such big star characters appearing in a superhero narrative to basically just play supporting roles (as Aquaman did many issues ago).

I'm going to be slightly disappointed if Bennett never gets a chance to introduce Bombshells Batman. Ideally she would get to pair him romantically with Superman, but, like I said, it seems that Superman is already spoken for. Unless Bombshells Superman is bi, maybe...?

Lobo/The Road Runner Special #1 (DC) There's a purity to the wordless Road Runner cartoons that make its stars perhaps the perfect ones to participate in superhero crossovers like this. Wile E. Coyote is about as pure evil as any supervillain, perhaps more so, as he's defined solely by his overwhelming and ultimately unachievable goal, without so much as the ability to speak to try and generate any sort of rationale or audience sympathy with. He's also all about weapons and elaborate traps. The Road Runner, meanwhile, is an unbeatable superhero: He's one of the few Looney Tune characters with a super-power, and in addition to his tremendous speed, he's an escape artist with the ability to always outsmart his foes in a way that would make even Batman jealous.

I feel like DC could pretty easily have all of their characters crossover with the Road Runner and/or Wile E. Coyote (And I suppose now is as good a point as any to note that Grant Morrison and Chaz Truog already introduced Wile E. Coyote to the DC Universe, sort of , way back in in the pages of 1988's Animal Man #5).

There is a lot going on in this one, written by Bill Morrison and drawn by Kelley Jones, even before the DC Universe guest-star gets introduced. Our tale starts in 1949, the year that the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote were originally introduced in their very first cartoon short, when the top secret Acem lab is infusing animals with alien DNA recovered at Roswell (this, then, is an origin for the Looney Tunes characters in general; we can see several animal/human hybrids growing in tanks, one of which has the general shape and coloration of Sylvester). Jones draws this lab in his usual insanely detailed but incredibly fanciful way.

The hybrid animal people all eventually escape, and the entire Road Runner/Wile E. Coyotoe  history seems to play out in a montage showing the coyote's failures to catch the bird between 1955 and 2009.

The coyote eventually learns to speak from another mutant, a very muscular version of Sam The Sheepdog, who calls him "Ralph," because he looks so much like someone he used to work with (That would be Ralph Wolf, Wile E. Coyote's doppelganger from a handful of shorts). So this version of Wile E. is both mute, as he is in Road Runner cartoons, and can talk, as he can in Bugs Bunny cartoons. From there he takes one of the labs experimental rockets to space and hires Lobo to catch the Road Runner for him. (Pretty much any villain would work, but bounty hunter Lobo's a good one because his regeneration powers allows him to suffer spectacularly grievous harm but recover in time to make another attempt upon the Road Runner's next pass).

While Lobo is playing the role of the coyote, the actual coyote  finds himself in the custody of some familiar space cops, including the one perhaps best suited to being drawn by a monster expert like Jones (well, among this Corps; Jones would crush the Sinestro Corps book, wouldn't he?). Eventually, things go pretty much back to normal...with one change.**

Jones is at once perfectly suited to all three of these main characters and a stylist who seems completely wrong for the Looney Tunes characters; in other words, he's an inspired, maybe even perfect choice. While reading, I kept racking my brain for an example of Jones drawing Lobo, as it just seemed like, statistically, he must have drawn him at some point, but not that I recall reading. Given Jones' ability with exaggerated musculature, excess in general and love of drawing skulls though, he's an ideal Lobo artist, particularly this version of Lobo, which is the '90s Lobo...basically a dark cartoon version of a super-comics character.

Jones, somewhat amazingly, makes both the Road Runner and the Coyote look like his but also look like themselves.

At the end of the story, Lobo says he's off to Vegas, and that's where the back-up--"But Wait, There's More!" drawn and written by Bill Morrison--picks up. It finds Lobo, now resembling the version of himself seen in Superman: The Animated Series, just leaving Vegas when Bugs Bunny shows up in a three-piece suit (well, the top two pieces anyway) claiming to be from Warner Bros.' legal department. Lobo is contractually obligated to appear in eight more pages, and so he continues to try and capture the Road Runner, while Bugs periodically appears to enforce the "rules" of Road Runner cartoons.

Unable to swear or smoke his cigar because "this part of the book is all-ages, Doc!", Lobo points out the absurdity of, well, this entire publishing endeavor, really: "Why in the #%@!! are these pages any different from the rest of the book?"

This is probably the best of the DC/Looney Tunes books so far; if DC does any more of these, Morrison and/or Jones should definitely be involved.

Lumberjanes: Faire and Square #1 (Boom Studios) This is one of those many Lumberjanes one-shots that seem to appear without fanfare on a regular basis. I actually didn't even realize that this was a one-shot special until I got home and started reading it; when my local comic shop shop-keep handed it to me, I just assumed it was the next issue of the ongoing series. It's not! It's a 40-page, $7.99 ($7.99! Jesus!) one-shot featuring a 32-page story written by YA prose author Holly Black and drawn by Marina Julia and an eight-page back-up by Gabby Rivera and Gaby Epstein.

I liked the first story quite a bit. Molly has found a Robin Hood book in the woods and is reading it on a rainy day when the girls discover there is a name written in the book and a flier for a Renaissance Faire in the woods nearby (hence the name of this story). Considering it "practically a quest," they convince Jen to accompany them to try to find the Faire and return the book to the young woman they suspect may have lost it. They have fun at the faire, make friends with the girl and also encounter a pterodactyl.

Black packs in a lot of fun little moments--this was my favorite Lumberjanes story in quite some time, maybe since the Gotham Academy crossover--and Julia's art is among the best to ever depict these characters. It's much more realistic in style than is often the case with Lumberjanes, but still far, far away from what one usually might consider "realistic" comics art. There's definitely a very strong manga influence in the character designs and depictions, if not the storytelling.

Unfortunately, Julia draws fairly terrible Pterosaurs.

The back-up involves the other 'janes trying to cheer up an uncharacteristically blue Ripley by acting out telenovella plots with her. It's decent, if somewhat far removed from the typical Lumberjanes story, as it doesn't have all that much to do with camp and/or high weirdness in the wilderness, but Epstein's highly cartoonish art if fun, and it is in sharp contrast with Julia's artwork.

Nightwing #23 (DC) The title character and his girlfriend, ex-supervillain-turned-social worker Shawn, have a disagreement over Dick's failure to show up for a job interview because he--not unreasonably!--prioritized trying to keep alien laser guns and killer robots out of the hands of local youth gangs. Writer Tim Seeley is portraying their disagreements okay, and he has Shawn starting to articulate why she cares if Dick has a job or not--something about giving him an additional reason to stick around town instead of just moving on as he has so often in the past--but, at its core, this still seems like a flawed plot point for this particular superhero instead of, I don't know, Peter Parker or someone. Dick Grayson is, after all, one of the heirs to the Wayne billions, so it's not like he has to work and, even if he did decide to get a job, why would it be something like loading and unloading crates from boats? That's not really the sort of gig most billionaire heirs gravitate towards, nor is it the sort of job that would allow him to stay close to the action, like Clark Kent's gig as a reporter, or Barry Allen's job as a police scientist and so on.

Similarly, just before they have their conversation, Shawn is shown arguing over the phone with her boss at the Haven Community Center about having spent some discretionary funds on a video game system, which she wanted to help keep troubled youth off the street. Surely her boyfriend's insanely rich adoptive father could give her community center a couple hundred bucks for some video game systems to keep troubled youth off the street; that's pretty much the Wayne Foundation's whole deal, isn't it...?

Like I said, Seeley does a fairly convincing job with this stuff, but I have a hard time wrapping my head around Dick Grayson, and those in his orbit, having anything at all resembling money problems.

That's the out-of-costume stuff. The in-costume stuff deals with the new Blockbuster's brewing rivalry with Tiger Shark, which climaxes when Nightwing stumbles into what appears to be a supervillain auction of some kind. There's a two-page spread full of villains, only a handful of whom I recognize--Magog, Shado, maybe Count Vertigo?--although that could be because many of them are new characters, like this Jersey Devil-esque Skyhoook character is...

(Edit: ..not! Skyhook is not new; read the comments for more!)

Minkyu Jung does a pretty strong job on art, although I think the out-of-costume sequences are stronger than the in-costume ones.

Superman #25 (DC) So this is an anniversary issue--an "extra-sized anniversary issue!" according to the cover--which actually is kind of a big deal, concluding the overarching storyline that this volume of Superman has been telling since its launch, and seemingly presenting a pretty big turning point for Superman and family. The mystery of Hamilton County, previously revealed int he last few issues, has been solved, meaning all that remains is winning the fight against the villain, and Clark, Lois and Jon prepare to leave town. Where will they move to? Metropolis is probably a pretty safe bet.

Superman and his allies--Batman, Robin, Frankenstein and The Bride--battle "Superboy Black," Manchester Black and the Super Elite. It can't possibly be a spoiler to tell you which side wins the day, and Manchester Black suffers a humiliating defeat that was unusual and amusing enough that it didn't even occur to me until the next day that some Marvel villains suffered almost the exact same fate in a classic Silver Age confrontation.

Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason have done a pretty fine job on this 25-issue run, despite the peculiarities they had to deal with, like Superman's continuity shift and soft-reboot during "Superman Reborn," and I hope they continue writing--and, in Gleason's case, often penciling--this title for at least another 25 issues.

Wonder Woman/Tasmanian Devil Special  #1 (DC) Of the four DC/Looney Tunes crossover specials I've read so far, this one is by far the worst, but I'm unsure of just how much blame should be laid at writer Tony Bedard's feet, since I'm unsure of how exactly this books came about and how the various pairings were assigned. These two characters, for example, just plain don't really work together in any particularly natural or compelling way, and, if there is an inventive way to play them off of one another, well, Bedard didn't come up with it in time to craft this script.

As Jim Lee's cover makes clear, this version of Taz isn't the "real" Looney Tunes character, as the Marvin The Martian and Bug Bunny of last week's crossover specials were. This is some big, scary, "realistic" version of the cartoon creature, drawn so titanic is size that he dwarfs no only cartoon Taz, but the six-foot Amazon heroine as well. He's a full head taller she is at the shoulder, but he's really massive; that's in a stooped, gorilla-like posture in which he is moving around on his knuckles. He still has a voracious appetite. He's still an extremely tough customer. And he still has the peculiar method of attack by which he turns himself into a tornado of sorts.

And that's about where the similarity ends. This gigantic Taz is, for the purposes of this story, a "greater guardian" for The Labyrinth, a gigantic, world-spanning, magical maze full of various monsters that the Amazons run around in for fun. The tale begins with Wonder Woman recalling when she first met Taz in her youth, journeying through the labyrinth to Tasmania, where she escaped him in rather Bugs Bunny-like fashion: Promising him a better meal than herself, playing him to sleep with music and then clipping off one of his "horns" of hair as proof that she survived an encounter with him.

In the present, Circe and an army of generic monster men attack Themyscira, and she turns the Amazons to stone with a special medallion. The maguffin needed to save them is held by The Minotaur, another greater guardian, and since only guardians can find one another, Wonder Woman enlists Taz's help.

And...that's it.

Instead of gibberish, Bedard has his Taz speaking in pictograms that appear in his dialogue bubbles, which Diana's ability to speak to animals apparently helps her understand. At one point, she lets him grasp the lasso so that he can speak English to her. Midway through the story, he puts on armor for some reason.

While there's not much to the story--and don't bother trying to match it up with current Wonder Woman continuity--Kitson's art is nice. I don't really care for his radical, random-feeling Taz redesign, but he draws Wonder Woman and all the Amazons really quite well. I don't know if he's just been getting better and better, or if he's working in a different style here, but this was the best work of Kitson's I can recall seeing, and I liked it a lot more than all the other Kitson-drawn comics I've read over the years.

The Looney Tunes-style back-up, which, like that in Lobo/Roadrunner continues the main story, features the aftermath of Taz's feast. As he's digesting, Wonder Woman plays the harp for him again, and it turns into the story of the Trojan War, as told by the pair, with various Looney Tunes characters standing in for the ancient Greek characters. This allows artist Ben Caldwell to draw not only the two title characters, but also Daffy Duck, Yosemite Sam, Elmer Fudd, Foghorn Leghorn, Bugs Bunny and so on.

*Of those who have drawn Batman in the recent-ish past? Jeez,  I don't know. Maybe John Romita Jr or Guillem March or Ian Bertam or Riley Rossmo? 

**Wile E. Coyote is really more of an orange than a green though, isn't he?


Brian said...

Kite-Butler? Hell yeah...

David page said...

skyhooks not new just incredibly obscure he was a one off villian from an early byrne era superman story who to my knowledge never showed up again after his one appearance