Thursday, July 20, 2017

Comic Shop Comics: July 19th

Archie #22 (Archie Comics) Jeez Mark Waid and Pete Woods, why are you guys trying so hard to make me cry while reading an Archie comic? They didn't quite get me there, but it sure wasn't for lack of trying. The majority of this issue is devoted to the various loved ones of The Person Who Was Injured In The Car Accident, loved ones as close as parents and as distant as school principal Mr. Weatherbee, remembering particular instances that demonstrate to them just how much they love The Person.

It should come as no surprise that the cliffhanger from the previous issue, in which The Person flatlines, turns out okay, and the doctors are able to revive The Person, but it ends with another dramatic cliffhanger, when The Person asks, "Why can't I feel my legs?"

And then there's seven pages of ads for Riverdale. Did you know there's a TV show based on Archie Comics called Riverdale? Well, there is.

I thought the cover of this issue kind of ironic, with the phrase "Everything changes" on it. Archie Comics' most defining characteristic is, after all, that nothing ever really changes for its characters and their setting. I mean, it was only 22 issues ago that the line had a major shake-up and relaunch, and even then, the changes weren't so dramatic as to completely reinvent the basic, essential characters or web of relationships between them, you know?

Anyway, I'm far more interested in the comedy Archie books (Jughead, Josie) than the dramedy ones (Archie), but after the rather rocky first chapter of this arc, Waid and Woods have been doing a pretty dang incredible job.

Batman #27 (DC Comics) There have only been two chapters of "The War and Jokes and Riddles" so far, so it seems a little early to take a break for an "Interlude," but that's where we've arrived, with "The War of Jokes and Riddles Interlude: The Ballad of Kite Man Part 1," by regular writer Tom King, guest pencil artist Clay Mann and a trio of inkers, including Mann himself.

King's fascination with Kite Man, who has at least cameo-ed in every single arc King has written since the "Rebirth" relaunch 27-issues ago, has been one of the more charming aspects of the series. Here, in this story set sometime near the end of Batman's new, post-Flashpoint "Year One" era, we get to see the origin of Kite Man, and I'm afraid it sort of drains the humor out of the character, as King must naturally give him a dark origin story (It's not quite as bad as what the Bat office did with Calendar Man, though)>

Charles Brown (Get it?) is a minor, down-on-his-luck Gotham City criminal who specializes in aerodynamics and, for reasons never made clear, always wears the same blue suit. He apparently worked with The Joker to designs The Jokermobile, and was the only one of that particular crew The Joker didn't kill. That's what leads Batman to bully Brown into establishing first contact and then a meeting with The Joker, in the hopes that Batman can then swoop in and collect The Joker.

The Riddler has also heard of the meeting, and so he kidnaps Brown and bullies him into revealing the whereabouts of the meeting as well, threatening the life of Brown's beloved son to get him to cooperate.

The meeting is a bit of a clusterfuck, although what exactly happened isn't the least bit clear--there's just a two-page spread in which we see The Joker stalking off with Brown, while Batman fights The Riddler, The Scarecrow, Killer Croc and Solomon Grundy in the background. One imagines this will be explained when the interlude is over, and King gets back to the story proper?

Meanwhile, The Riddler has pre-emptively murdered Brown's innocent young son (in this storyline's, like, third major act of completely un-Riddler-like behavior--is he a Skrull or what?) on the assumption that Brown would betray him, which pushes Brown to become a superhero and join The Joker's "side" in an attempt to get vengeance on The Riddler. This argument is laid out by the Frank Miller-like technique of television pundits arguing about news in Gotham City constantly in the background--I guess there's like a CNN devoted specifically to covering Gotham City...?

The art's okay, and the last page is pretty great, but I don't think the world really needed the dark, secret origin of Kite Man any more than it needed violent serial killer Riddler. The very idea of the city's supervillains picking sides like this is also an ongoing spot of complete weirdness, especially since they are picking the side of either a chaotic serial killer/terrorist who is almost definitely kill them (and is not a team player of any sort, rarely if ever teaming up with anyone, and generally no more than one other bad guy at a time...and usually Lex Luthor at that) and a methodical, ingenious thief who is now being presented as just as vicious as The Joker. If this were The Penguin or Luthor (or hell, Two-Face or Bane or Hush, just so long as it's a rational actor with incredible resources and some form of interest in the actual gains of a gang war) hiring these guys to fight Falcone or a traditional, rational actor with a reason for engaging in a gang war at all, then I guess it might be more plausible, but in this interlude we see a bunch of villains having already taken one side or another, but no real justification has been given as to why they've chosen one violent lunatic with no real ability to make it worth their while over the other.The two generals in the crime war should have something to offer their soldiers, something of so much value that they would get involved at all, and, in many cases, it would have to be a lot more than just money, which most of them are perfectly capable of stealing on their own.

So far, the only justification given is that from the Frank Miller-style Greek chorus of TV punditry:
We're supposed to have leadership. We're supposed to decide. We want safety, someone has to win. So pick a winner. We want The Joker gone, we help The Riddler. We want The Riddler gone, we help the damn Joker!
Again, maybe this will be explained when we get out of the interlude and back to the story proper--we did see The Joker threatening The Penguin to be his lieutenant and The Riddler lying to get Poison Ivy on his side earlier--but, at this point, the villains seem to be taking sides simply because that's the premise of the story arc King has come up with, not because he's made it part of the story. But thus far, this story has been incredibly unsatisfying; King's strings are far too visible, and it all seems too artificial to be immersive.

Sadly, this issue does not include a variant cover by Tim Sale, but instead has one by Tony Daniel, and Daniel's features not Kite Man, but Batman posing on a scary gargoyle. It's too bad; I'd really like to see a Sale version of Kite Man. The sole virtue of the Sale variants on Rebirth Batman has been seeing Sale draw modern characters, and those we haven't already seen his often quite idiosyncratic versions of in his past Batman work.

Batman '66 Meets The Legion of Super-Heroes #1 (DC) This is the first of DC's Batman '66 comics I've read since Adam West passed away and it is admittedly a little uncomfortable, particularly because artist Mike Allred--who here actually provides all of the interior art as well as the cover art, the latter of which he has been contributing to these comics as long as DC has been publishing them--is so adept and marrying recognizable celebrity likenesses with his own style.

That aside, this is the exact Batman '66 comic I've been waiting for since I saw Allred's very first cover. Well, not the Legion of Super-Heroes part, obviously (that is actually a little out of left field), but an all-Allred issue, cover as well as interiors (Well, actually, I wanted it to be very Batgirl-centric, and she only has a few panels in this issue).

So Lee Allred, Mike Allred and Laura Allred have the Dynamic Duo holed up in the Bat-cave, using the Bat-computer to track their foe Egghead. When who should appear but a half-dozen Legionnaires--the ones on the cover there--who have journeyed back from the year 2966 to recruit the greatest teenage superhero of all-time to help them capture Universo, who is on the loose in the 20th century. And bears a rather striking resemblance to Egghead.

It turns out that this is only a one-shot special, rather than a miniseries, which is the format the Batman '66 material has taken since the monthly was canceled. I was at first a little surprised and a little disappointed by this, as more Allred art is better than less Allred art, but this length actually works pretty well, giving the creators just enough room to work in as many characters from both settings as they want, at least in cameo form (the rest of the LOSH and the Legion of Super-Pets appear in the skies in the background of one panel, for example).

It's a lot of fun, and I say that as someone not overly enamored of the Batman '66 milieu and actually rather repelled by the LOSH in general. Near the end, when Robin says that it might have been fun to join a group of fellow teenage superheroes, Batman points out there are probably some teenage superheroes right there in the present that he could hang out with, which Robin says sounds like a "titanic" idea.

I don't know of Team Allred will follow through with a Batman '66 Meets The Teen Titans or not, but it certainly suggested a new way forward for DC's use of the characters. If the latest model was miniseries teaming them up with the stars of other live-action TV shows, maybe the next one should be teaming them up with various '66-iterations of other DC superheroes.

DC Comics Bombshells #31 (DC) In this issue, it's the secret origin of Killer Frost, and the secret origin of Supergirl, which is different from the origin of Supergirl, which we've already seen. This new origin ties her pretty directly to Faora and Krypton, and we learn how Faora has been behind pretty much all of the various villains the various Bombshells have faced off against up until this point in the series. There's really a sense of writer Marguerite Bennett winding things down now, in preparation for the already announced next iteration of a Bombshells comic.

Nightwing #25 (DC) This over-sized twenty-fifth issue seems to be the conclusion of the "Blockbuster" arc, or at least a turning point in in Nightwing's fight with Blockbuster, as the villain has fairly successfully used Nightwing to take out Tiger Shark's operation for him.

Also, Dick Grayson finally gets a job! But it's too late; Shawn has dumped him for his...unwillingness to get a job doing menial labor...? I never really got this part of the arc, which, as I've said before, seems more like the kind of plot point for a different super-comic starring a different superhero, not the one who grew up in an obscenely generous zillionaire's mansion.

The "tiger sharks" were cool.

Patsy Walker, AKA Hellcat Vol. 3: Careless Whisker(s) (Marvel Entertainment) I still have one more issue of those collected in this third and final trade of Kate Leth and Brittney Williams' all-around superlative title yet to read, and I'm actually kind of reluctant to do so, as it means that I will no longer have any more issues of their Patsy Walker to look forward to.

It's too bad. This was one of my favorite Marvel comics of the last few years (with Unbeatable Squirrel Girl being the other one) , and, in my humble opinion as a semi-professional comics critic, it was also one of the better Marvel comics of the last few years.

I understand Leth is leaving comics-scripting behind in the near-future, but I do hope Marvel finds something for Williams to draw for them on a regular basis. Preferably whatever the hell she wants. In a perfect world, it would be Jubes, as Williams and Leth have been maybe the only creative team to really make the weird-ass current version of Jubilee work, by having her embrace her weird, disparate elements--mutant, X-Man, superhero, single mom, vampire, etc.

Superman #27 (DC) Scott Godlewski is the guest-artist for what may be the single preachiest comic book I have ever, ever read. After a frankly weird scene where Superman falls asleep while flying home one night--I could have sworn I had read in various '90s Superman comics that he doesn't need to sleep, he just does it out of habit and to feel human--Lois Lane decides to rent a mobile home so the family can spend the Fourth of July holiday driving around the country and learning shit.

Check this out:
If you thought, "God, shut up Lois!" at any point during that, then you will hate this issue, as the entire issue is like that. The pages showing the Super-Family spending time together or doing normal-ish, family-on-vacation stufff are just bridges between history lessons like the one above. Also covered is the meaning of the famous "COEXIST" bumper sticker, the horror of Word War I, the bravery of the founding fathers in signing the Declaration of Independence and, in a fairly cringe-inducing scene, Clark and company inviting a paralyzed Iraq war vet to join them for dinner and, when the hostess balks, Clark gives a very respectfully-delivered public-shaming to her about how vets rule. The dinner changes the man's life! He even gets offered a job as a dish-washer!

Now, as cynical an asshole as I may be, I don't necessarily disagree with...let's see...anything at all that either Clark or Lois say in this issue, but holy hell, did writers Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason have to convey it in the form of a lecture? Superman is already Superman, and super-comics work with blunt force symbology; you can share broad, treacly, impossible-to-argue-with political sentiments in a way that can be, you know, entertaining. At the very least, they could have tried to do less telling and more showing.

That said, it wasn't any less entertaining than another issue of Superman and Superboy fighting Manchester Black, I guess; I actually had fun yelling at the characters in the comic to shut up, so, you know, there's that.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Comic Shop Comics: July 12th

To my great disappointment, my comic shop had sold out of Dark Days: The Casting #1 by the time I got there after work, so the individual issue I was most looking forward to reading last night was unattainable. Luckily, there was still one comic I was intensely curious about--the first issue of the new Wonder Woman team--and a new issue of one of my all-around favorite ongoing monthlies, Josie and The Pussycats, so it's not like it was a complete waste of a trip or anything. Anyway, here's what I brought home with me last night...

Detective Comics #960 (DC Comics) This issue splits its attention between two so-far un-related plots, Batman trying to get some particular information from Zatanna that is only available through a particularly dangerous magical object, and the Azrael stuff.

The former is all pretty well written by James Tynion, complete with flashbacks to the time they spent together in their youth, Zatanna trying to scare Batman out of using the device and discussions about magic in general. The latter is a little messier, in part because it seems to deal with thorny continuity issues--Tynion references some very old-school, pre-reboot business as well as his own, current version of Azrael and the Order of St. Dumas, and doesn't do a very good job of synthesizing the two different versions, making this another example of the number one problem with DC's half-ass reboots--and in part because it has, so far, nothing at all to do with the other plot.

I guess that's how comic books might have worked in the '70s, '80s and '90s, but it feels wrong in 2017, when we've come to expect story arcs rather than soap opera-style plots and sub-plots that don't always align.

There's also what looks to be a robot pope in one scene of this. I really like the robo-pope. He looks cool.

Gotham Academy: Second Semester #11 (DC) This is it! The penultimate issue of Brenden Fletcher and company's Gotham Academy saga, under both its titles. As the cute cover by original series artist Karl Kerschl indicates, this issue once again sees Maps Mizoguchi crossing paths with Damian Wayne, and thus it is one of the better issues since the last time Maps and Damian shared panel space.

The characters are so divergent from one another, so opposite that Maps plays off of Damian maybe better than any other kid character, certainly better than any of Damian's current Teen Titans line-up, or his friend Maya or even the new Superboy, whose odd-couple chemistry is what is powering the current Super Sons ongoing.

It's pretty clear that the market has spoken in terms of where it stands on Gotham Academy, and re-tooling the book so completely as to make it more salable would be a disservice to Fletcher, Kerschl, Cameron Stewart, Becky Cloonan and company's original conception, but I for one would love to read a new Robin series by Brenden Fletcher in which Damian Wayne enrolls at the Academy, and Maps is a prominent part of his supporting cast.

Anyway, now that the fact that Olive is semi-possessed by a centuries old pyrokinetic witch is firmly established, Maps is ready to write her old friend off completely, but Pomeline and Colton convince Maps to help them get the one thing that might cure Olive, which is held in a safe in Wayne Manor.

Unfortunately for them, Two-Face has the same idea, and so it's up to Damian and Maps to team-up and save the day. So, yeah, lots of great Maps/Damian scenes.

Gotham Academy's Two-Face still seems a bit off, especially compared to the one in All-Star Batman; just seeing him work with regular hench-people in ski-masks seems wrong. The last pages, in which Damian reappears as Robin are pretty great, as is the moment he hands something over to Maps. I think the sequence could have been handled a little better, as it's not entirely clear if she even takes in who he is under the mask or not; it could very easily be not, considering how worried she is for Olive at that point.

It's ending, but if this issue is any indication, than at least it's ending strong.

Josie and The Pussycats #8 (Archie Comics) What fortuitous timing! Just yesterday Archie Comics announced a new series called The Archies, focusing on the Archie's band (last seen, I think, as first The Reggies and then The Jugheads in the pages of Jughead), and then the very same day The Archies guest-star in the pages of Josie and The Pussycats...!

What are they doing there? Well, apparently The Pussycats invited them to open for them when they played the Tokyo Dome. In Japan. That's...a pretty good gig for a high school garage band. The Archies are mostly incidental to the plot, there to zing and ping quips off of, as most of the action involves the Pussycats' decision to either keep Alan M as their manager, or accept Alexander Cabot's offer to be their manager. Both have their downsides; Alan slept with Josie and kinda sorta broker her heart a little bit. Alexander kidnapped the band and flew them to his Antarctic fortress.

Oh, and then there's the fact that Alexander's sister, Josie's long-time frenemy Alexandra, just slept with Alan the previous night, and the pair of them must wrestle with whether it's better to tell Josie and potentially hurt her feelings, or not tell Josie, and potentially hurt her feelings.

It's great that Cameron DeOrdio and Marguerite Bennett, have finally got all of the players in the same comic at the same time, as well as The Archies for texture, and they are doing a pretty good job of balancing drama, music and crime-fighting, as villains the Pussycats previously busted return to exact their revenge mid-show.

There was a cryptic meta-statement from Melody that kinda scared me there, but I haven't heard anything official to confirm it yet.

As usual, the 20-page story is followed goddam pages of Riverdale (the TV show) ads.

Wonder Woman #26 (DC) The Wonder Woman title experiences its first transition between writers since last year's "Rebirth" relaunch, and only its fourth since the 2011 "New 52" reboot and relaunch. The new writer taking the torch from Greg Rucka is Shea Fontana, a name that will likely be unfamiliar to a lot of DC Comics readers and fans, but she's not exactly new to scripting comics starring female superheroines, including Wonder Woman. Fontana, a television writer, has been writing original graphic novels based on the Mattel line of DC Super Hero Girls toys and merchandise (I've read two of the three published so far, and they were both just fine).

Fontana, who is writing a five-part, place-holding story arc, is paired with artist Mirka Andolfo, who similarly has a great deal of experience with Wonder Woman, just not this Wonder Woman, as Andolfo has been a long-time part of the DC Comics Bombshells artist roster.

I was quite pleasantly surprised by their first issue. It is a little strange to finally be reading a "new" Wonder Woman story after so long, as the entirety of Greg Rucka's 25-issue run (plus an annual and a special) was devoted to telling a single story, that of Wonder Woman's origins and conflict with Veronica Cale. Because this is not that, I worry that many readers will think it feels like a fill-in arc, something to generate content while DC waits for the next writer's scripts to get drawn (That next writer, by the way, is James Robinson, although I believe he too will have a pretty short run).

Fontana opens with Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor on a mission to protect a U.N. refugee camp in Greece, where she sees something that triggers a painful (but cute!) memory of her own girlhood on Themyscira. Back home, Diana has a medical check-up which seems slightly suspect, and then joins Etta Candy at Etta's brother's wedding (Sadly, her brother is not named, so we don't know for certain whether or not the brother getting married is Mint Candy). There Diana encounters a little girl, and a pretty rote cliffhanger ending (see the cover), although it is presented in a rather dramatic fashion.

Andolfo's artwork is in pretty sharp contrast to her predecessors Liam Sharp, Bilquis Evely and Nicola Scott, but it's good, and I liked how cute everyone looked...not just Wondy and the Amazons and Etta, but even the gray-haired, mustachioed army guy and so on. Like the storyline being started, it's a pretty drastic change of pace, but it's a refreshing one.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Some recent Marvel collections I read recently

All-New Wolverine Vol. 3: Enemy of The State II

Well, this was interesting move. Writer Tom Taylor follows a Civil War II tie-in, which was collected in the trade paperback All-New Wolverine Vol. 2: Civil War II, with a story arc entitled "Enemy of The State II." The original "Enemy of The State" was a 2004-2005 Wolverine story arc by writer Mark Millar, artist John Romita Jr and others in which Hydra, The Hand and a new group "killed" Wolverine, resurrected him as a brain-washed Hand super-assassin, and then sicced him upon SHIELD and a large swathe of the Marvel Universe, and he fought and almost-but-didn't-kill pretty much everyone...well, I think Northstar might have "died" for a while. It was pretty cool; Wolvie fought a shark, and JRJR drew it, so, you know, it had that going for it.

For this "Enemy of The State," Taylor puts this Wolverine in a situation that...isn't really like that at all. Just enough that they could get away with using the title, I guess. JRJR is not involved; it's drawn by Nic Virella, Djibril Morissette-Phan and Scott Hanna. There is no shark.

I'm not sure if Taylor used that title simply as an attention-grabbing call-back, or if he was making a sarcastic meta-point, since "Enemy of The State II" has hardly anything in common with "Enemy of The State," in the same way that Civil War II had hardly anything in common with Civil War (which was also written by Millar!). Probably the former.

So when we last saw All-New Wolverine Laura Kinney and her clone/little sister Gabby, the pair had just survived a Civil War II tie-in, and took the opportunity to tell everyone off, express their dissatisfaction with the very premise of Civil War II and announce their intention to stay out of it.

That entailed Laura putting cosplaying as Netflix's Jessica Jones--well, she put on a scarf and leather jacket--and packing up Gabby and their pet wolverine Jonathan for a cross-country trip to a stinky old cabin of Logan's, where they can sit out the civil war and also stay off the radar of Laura's old handler, who just mailed her a scary package tying into her origin as X-23. But trouble follows Team Wolverine!

Doused with her "trigger scent," which turns her into an unstoppable, mindless killing machine, Laura blacks out and kills the entire population of a nearby small town! (Spoiler: Not really, but she thinks she did). She's promptly arrested by SHIELD, escapes and then she tries to get to Madripoor, but along the way she's abducted by bad guys lead by Kimura, who wants to use her trigger scent to have her assassinate Tyger Tiger so they can...take over Madripoor? (I believe the original "Enemy of The State" took its name from the fact that the bad guys wanted to use Wolvie to kill the president of the United States, after his various fight scenes; I guess "The State" Laura is the enemy of is Madripoor...? Huh; I think the worst part of this arc may actually be its title...)

It takes the combined efforts of Gabby, time-travelling teenage Angel (Laura's boyfriend, remember), Teen Grey, the rather randomly here Gambit and some unlikely allies to not only straighten out what happened and why, but to also cure the trigger scent's hold on Laura once and for all, essentially purging her of the sorts of berserker rages that plagued her predecessor for so long and bringing to a close the grown-and-programmed-to-be-an-assassin part of her backstory.

It may have taken two consecutive trade paperbacks specifically labeled as sequels to comics from over a decade or so ago, but it looks like Laura, Taylor and All-New Wolverine are all ready to move on once and for all and into a less Old Wolverine sort of series. In essence, this storyline seems to complete the X-23 part of Laura once and for all.

The artwork is pretty rough, and the changes in personnel don't do any of it any favors. The trade collects issues #13-18; Virella draws the first two issues (with Hanna inking), and then Morissete-Phan comes on for an issue, and then Virella returns for an issue, and than Morissette-Phan returns for an issue, and then it's back to Virella again. I couldn't guess what was happening behind the scenes, but the results don't look so hot; the two artists draw one character, Roughhouse, completely differently, and thanks to a change in colorists, he even has different color hair, depending on the issue.

There are some minor things--Gambit's staff looks more like a huge pipe in a panel, Laura dons an Iron Man costume but leaves off the helmet for some reason--but it's mostly the aesthetic whiplash that hurts the visual aspect of the book...which, this being comics, is kind of an important aspect.

The comic has its moments--I liked the bit where Gabby responds to the smuggler who says she sees things differently, for example--but it's probably the worst of the three volumes collecting the series to date.

Avengers: Unleashed Vol. 1--Kang War One

Here's a good example of how challenging Marvel makes following their comics in trade paperback. Despite the "Vol. 1" on the spine, this continues writer Mark Waid's run on the flagship Avengers title, All-New, All-Different Avengers. That produced 15 serially-published issues of a comic book series and three trade paperback collections, which was apparently enough that Marvel decided they needed to relaunch the series with a new title and a new #1 issue, despite the fact that it had the same core cast (with Civil War II and Champions prompted a few defections) and that the same writer would be continuing the same storyline from his All-New, All-Different Avengers series.

To make matters more confusing still, the relaunched, renumbered and retitled comic book series is called simply Avengers, but it is being collected as Avengers: Unleashed for, um, reasons...?

As always, this is hardly an insurmountable barrier that is keeping larger numbers of people from buying and reading Avengers trade paperbacks, but it's still a barrier, and I can't quite make sense of why Marvel continues to keep throwing up such barriers at all. It seems pretty abundantly clear to everyone now, even Marvel, that whatever positive effects a continuous cycle of relaunches-in-numbers-only might have had in the past are disappearing, and I'm not convinced those positive effects of a temporary bump in periodical sales to comic shops were ever really more valuable than the potential loss of audience for the trade paperbacks which can, of course, last and sell indefinitely.

The copy I read, for what it's worth, came from the nearest book store to me, a Barnes and Noble. This store has the bulk of their graphic novels in two aisles; one devoted to manga, the other to everything else. Titles are shelved more-or-less alphabetically, but in this case Avengers: Unleashed Vol. 1 came before All-New, All-Different Avengers Vols. 1-3, probably because they decided to start the shelf devoted to Avengers comics with the adjective-less title. (If you want to catch up on Mark Waid's Avengers run, and haven't yet started, the actual reading order is All-New, All-Different Avengers Vols. 1-3, and then Avengers: Unleashed Vol. 1. Lockjaw and The Pet Avengers: Unleashed, while pretty good in its own right, has nothing to do with any of this).

After Iron Man Tony Stark got kinda sorta semi-killed at the end of Civil War II, and the kids Ms. Marvel, Nova and Spider-Man Miles Morales all decided to bounce and start their own team, what's left of this line-up quickly recruits a pair of old Avengers: Hercules and Spider-Man Peter Parker, the latter of whom basically buys his way on the team by offering them funding and a new headquarters on the top five floors of the Parker Industries, which used to be the Fantastic Four's Baxter Building. This seems to be one more point of comparison between the current Spider-Man and the old Iron Man, the main difference here being that none of Parker's teammates know he is both the rich guy funding them and letting them live in his Manhattan tower and a member of their superhero line-up.

Picking up on plot points from All-New, All-Different--particularly from The Vision issue of the Civil War II trade (reviewed in this long-ass post), Kang the Conqueror attacks the team pretty much as soon as Waid fleetly and efficiently sets up the new status quo. Waid, as I've said plenty of times previously, knows how to write comic books, and this one is very much an old-school superhero team book, right down to the pacing.

The plot, as almost all involving time travel are, is kind of complicated. Essentially, The Vision was facing a Baby Hitler situation with the infant Kang, and decided that rather than killing him, he would just abduct him and hide him. That resulted in adult versions of Kang attacking first The Vision and then the rest of The Avengers, and so the Kangs killed all of them when they were babies. They got that sorted out by the end of the third issue, but Waid then went in an unexpected direction, and had Captain America Sam Wilson decide that they should really quit playing defense and finish Kang off once and for all. All of that leads to recruiting a team of teams of Avengers from four eras, including the founders, attacking various parts of Kang's temporal empire.

The artist is now Michael Del Mundo, and as he's the only notable personnel change, he's probably the only real reason to bother relaunching, but given how often artists change on Marvel comics, it's not a terribly convincing reason. He is a great artist though, and his artwork, which he mostly colors himself, gives the interiors a painterly aesthetic that quite closely echoes that of cover artist Alex Ross (also retained from All-New, All-Different). He's really great with the trippy visuals, of which there are many. Some of these involve all the time travel and general super-hero craziness--as when Kang calls alternate version of himself in as reinforcements, and these resemble a MODOK-esque Kang with a giant head and little limbs, as well as a vaguely ape-like Kang. There are also just a few throwaway instances of Del Mundo going nuts with the visuals, as when he draws a Kang head that is itself made up of different versions of Kang.

Del Mundo is also great with lay-outs though, and there is some really effective "acting" bits, some of which call on the placement of characters, panels or lettering to have one character cut-off or silence another character visually as well as in the dialogue. He really gets to shine in the penultimate issue, in which Kang narrates his entire history on the way to a surprise ending, as the book consists almost entirely of double-page spreads, although rather busy ones with lots of visual information embedded in them. Overall, his presence really elevates Waid's Avengers run by his mere presence. Adam Kubert and those other guys were fine, but Del Mundo? Del Mundo is really, really good.

I'm no fan of The Vision, and I have been sick of Kang and his time shenanigans for almost as long as I've known who Kang is (I believe I audibly groaned when he first appeared within the pages of All-New, All-Different), but despite my personal distaste for some elements in the story arc, I still enjoyed the hell out of this comic book. If you like super-comics, this one is a good one--provided you can figure out when to read it!

Doctor Strange and The Sorcerers Supreme Vol. 1: Out of Time

Doctor Strange and The Sorcerers Supreme is a comic book series that simply shouldn't exist. Marvel has struggled with the character since 1996, which ended about 20 years worth of Doctor Strange ongoing comics in a pair of monthly series. His particular role in the Marvel Universe has meant he's never really been completely MIA for long, regularly racking up guest-appearances, memberships in various team books and rather regularly produced miniseries, but that the publisher has been able to keep the 2015-launched, Jason Aaron-written and (mostly) Chris Bachalo-drawn series going as long as they have is something of an achievement for a character some 20 years removed from his last ongoing series.

So of course Marvel, seeing some somewhat surprising success, immediately tried to strike while the iron is warmer than usual, launching a second Doctor Strange ongoing monthly series. (Similarly, when the latest volume of Black Panther proved a success with its first few issues, Marvel launched two additional Black Panther series, both of which were almost immediately canceled. Marvel seems so intent to find their next Deadpool-style cash chow that they seem to be treating everything that doesn't flop immediately as if they've found it.)

This context sets before Doctor Strange and The Sorcerers Supreme a rather unfortunately high bar: It doesn't just have to be pretty good, which it is, but it also must justify its very existence, and I'm afraid that as well-crafted as it is, as enjoyable as it was to read, it wasn't so great an achievement of comics story-telling that it had to be. The world would have continued to turn just fine were this a miniseries, or an original graphic novel, or a fill-in story arc of the monthly, or was simply never told at all.

Writer Robbie Thompson works mainly with the art team of pencil artist Javier Rodriguez and inker Alvaro Lopez, who contribute five of the six issues in this collection, while Nathan Stockman provides art for one of the issues. The premise is a rather simple one. When an incredibly powerful foe threatens Camelot, Merlin magically travels through time to assemble a super-group of various Sorcerers Supreme. In addition to Strange, these include familiar-ish characters Wiccan Billy Kaplan, from a future where he has inherited Strange's role; Strange's mentor The Ancient One, from a time when he was still a very young man and Sir Isaac Newton, who I am fairly certain has appeared in a Marvel comic of not too ancient vintage which I never read (I want to guess "SHIELD" was in the title, somewhere?), and his more intelligent-than-usual Mindless One, whom he calls "Mindful One."

Rounding out the team are two characters I thinkride anything, though).

Why Merlin plucked these particular characters from these particular points in time isn't ever explained, but it seems curious that he would recruit Strange at this particularly low-point in his magical powers, as well as The Ancient One before he was a little more, well, Ancient.

The issues are pretty formulaic. After the first, each begins with an origin story of sorts featuring one of the characters who will play a bigger than usual role in that particular issue, and then the narrative will plunge into the next step of their adventure. It takes some unexpected twists, as the threat Merlin calls them to face isn't what it first appears, Merlin himself doesn't stick around too long, and one of the Sorcerers betrays the others.

Rodirguez's art is uniformly excellent. The designs of all of the new and/or altered characters are all pretty great, from Rodriguez's version of an adult Billy to The Demon Rider and Conjuror, and, as should be the case with a 1960s-born, Steve Ditko-created character and milieu, there are plenty of opportunities for show-stoppingly intricate and imaginative imagery, like Strange and Merlin's walk-and-talk through time in the first issue, or a visit to (and battle within) Merlin's Escher-like library (which seems to owe quite a bit to the Distinguished Competition's Doctor Fate's tower).

The guest-art is strategically employed, coming during the fifth issue, a sort of pause to the action in which we learn the origin of the Marvel Universe's Sir Isaac Newton, and see his first meeting with Doctor Strange (back when he was at the height of his powers, hanging out with Clea). The final issue, for which Rodriguez appears, is a cute, clever (but kind of irritating in practice) choose-your-own-adventure style comic.

All-in-all, it's a particularly creative comic book, but it doesn't really offer anything that one can't find in the other Doctor Strange ongoing (which has also seen Strange teaming up with various sorcerers and mages, including pre-existing Marvel characters and intriguing new ones). That makes it a somewhat idiotic publishing decision--unless Marvel really thought that the movie would create so many Doctor Strange fans that they could do like they did with Guardians of The Galaxy, and build a line around the doctor--even if it does have entertainment value and impressive execution.

In other words, it's a pretty good comic that probably shouldn't have ever been least not as a $3.99/20-page ongoing monthly.

Ms. Marvel Vol. 6: Civil War II

This is the first trade paperback collection of Ms. Marvel that I did not purchase a copy of. (That's right, it's time for everyone's favorite aspect of EDILW--Caleb Talks About His Comics Buying Habits!). Ms. Marvel has been one of the handful of Marvel comics I have been not only reading in trade, but buying in trade as well (due to cancellations, I think Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is now the only one I'm still buying regularly in trade!). The week this one was released, I let it sit on the shelf at the comics shop because it was a Civil War II tie-in, and I wanted to wait until I actually read Civil War II before I read this tie-in to it, and Civil War II was still going on. And then it was expanded to last an extra issue or something. And I think it was also late...?

Anyway, by the time I had read Civil War II in its collected form, Ms. Marvel Vol. 6 was months old, and given that I had already read something close to 10,000 trade paperback collections sub-titled Civil War II that I had borrowed from the library, I didn't see any reason to not just borrow Ms. Marvel Vol. 6 too, rather than spending $17.99 on it (Well, aside from "voting with my dollars" so that Marvel keeps Ms. Marvel going, I guess, although I don't know if they make many decisions like that based on trade sales...Oh, and making sure some really great comics creators get some extra royalties...?).

So the lesson here, Marvel Entertainment Decision-Maker Who Is No Doubt Reading This Post And Hanging On Every Word,  is that tie-ins to event storylines can make excellent jumping-off points, particularly if said event is delayed. You have probably heard this before, but every jumping-on point is also a good jumping-off point, and pretty much anything at all that disturbs a comics reader's buying habits in anyway is perilous.

So this six-issue collection has a four-issue Civil War II-related story arc sandwiched in between two issues that serve as a good prelude and a good epilogue, respectively; taken as a single unit, writer. G. Willow Wilson's sixth volume of the series is a pretty well-constructed story with its own beginning, middle and end.

The first issue was drawn by the series' original artist, Adrian Alphona, and guest-stars Ms. Marvel's then-fellow teen Avengers, Spider-Man Miles Morales and Nova...although not in the capacity one might expect. There is a Tri-State Science Fair going on, and Kamala Khan, Bruno and other members of her supporting cast are there competing against the New York contingent, lead by Miles. When there's an issue that forces the superheroes to suit up, Nova is just kind of flying by.

That final issue is drawn by Mirka Andolfo, whose work frequently appears in DC Comics Bombshells, and follows Kamala to her ancestral home in Karachi, where she has gone to try and clear her head from the terrible things that happened to her during Civil War II and the tie-in arc. Ms. Marvel has already been pretty blessed with all-around great art, but Andolfo is a really good fit, maybe particularly for this particular story, which has Kamala out of costume for most of it--she purposely left her costume back in Jersey City. Andolfo is probably a good name for the editors to keep in mind when the regular artists need a break.

As for the tie-in arc, Wilson's got kind of a difficult job, as Kamala has particularly close bonds with the two opposing "generals" in the war, having taken her superhero name from her lifetime idol Captain Marvel Carol Danvers, and having served alongside Iron Man Tony Stark on The Avengers for a few years now (our time). Those bonds, and her relationship with Miles, meant Civil War II writer Brian Michael Bendis all but had to include her in the series itself, and the moment she decides Carol has gone too far is one of the more dramatic ones in the series, at least if you know/care about the character. Additionally, Ruth Fletcher Gage and Christos Gage used Kamala a bit in their tie-in arc, which was collected in Captain Marvel Vol. 2: Civil War II.

Wilson doesn't include any of those scenes, and her arc doesn't really quite line-up with the events of Bendis' main event series. They fit well enough though, as long as you don't think too much about the timeline between the various books (When I was a high schooler, this would have infuriated me, and I probably woulda wrote an angry letter to a letters column). Instead, she keeps Kamala busy in Jersey City, where Carol Danvers has assigned her to be the team leader of a group of four young (superpower-less) volunteers who are quite excited about this whole predictive justice thing.

Kamala is obviously a little torn on the matter, because it's so obviously illegal and dumb--these kids un-ironically dress like Hitler Youth, topping off their outfits with arm bands and Saddam-like berets, and keeping the victims they don't actually arrest in a makeshift Guantanamo in an abandoned Jersey City warehouse. On the other hand, it's Carol Danvers asking her to help. (The business with Miles doesn't come up in here at all; his appearance at the science fair was his only appearance in this volume.)

When a classmate gets citizen-arrested by the group, and Bruno gets badly injured, Kamala finally flips sides, trying to orchestrate a demonstration of how Ulysses' powers don't always work, one that gets Captain Marvel and Iron Man in the same place at the same time, for all the good that does.

Wilson's arc is actually pretty ambitious, as she tries, not terribly successfully, to tie Marvel's civil "war" with the geo-political events that created Pakistan. The four tie-in issues including flashback sequences drawn by Alphona that are set in the 1940s, the 1970s and in Kamala's childhood, as well as shortly into her career as Ms. Marvel. These reveal the origin of that thing she wears on her left arm, how she first met Bruno and some poetic suggestions about her Inhuman bloodline, as her grandmother and mother speak of something special inside them, something from beyond the stars.
The tone is a little all-over the place, though. Alphona's artwork in those four issues is his most stately and serious--well, there's a lot of silliness in Kamala's second-grade classroom--but the modern day business, all drawn by Takeshi Miyazawa, features a Canadian Ninja Syndicate who attack with, like, chickens and straight edges. The family history is meant to be taken quite seriously, while the Jersey City action is melodramatic in the mighty Marvel manner--all the Carol Vs. Tony stuff--while Kamala's difficulties with Bruno and her other friends are also supposed to be serious, but those scenes come between ones of over-the-top junior fascist nonsense. While not technically part of the arc, the very first issue is Alphona at his loosest, with most panels busting at the borders with little gags (Each long or medium shot is worth scrutinizing for visual gags, mostly centered around the science projects in the background, and callbacks aplenty can be found in the later classroom scene).

It's...a weird book. Well-written, extremely well drawn and with an ambitious amount of humor, drama and melodrama, it's nevertheless tonally unique, as if Wilson is deciding scene by scene what kind of modern Marvel book her Ms. Marvel is going to be, a serious one, a comedic one or a Nick Spencer-esque combination of the two.

Oh! I just noticed as I was writing this that, according to the back cover, this is rated "T+"; I found that a little surprising, if only because Ms. Marvel is one of the publisher's most consistently teen-friendly, genuinely all-ages comics I've encountered.

*Let me go check my bookshelf to be sure! Let's see... Ghost Rider canceled, Howard The Duck canceled, Patsy Walker canceled, lost interest in All-New, All-Different Avengers and Star Wars, didn't care for that first volume of the current Black Panther...Yeah, jeez, if I'm not going to keep reading Ms. Marvel in trade, I am currently down to just Squirrel Girl! At least for the time being. I am sure that will change in the near-ish future.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Comic Shop Comics: July 5th

Batman #26 (DC Comics) No, sorry. The first chapter of writer Tom King and artist Mikel Janin's "The War of Jokes and Riddles" arc had something of a rocky start. The premise is apparently some sort of post-reboot answer to The Long Halloween, a big (New 52) "Year One" era arc featuring all of Batman's worst foes taking sides in a brutal gang war. It's a fine idea, but the leaders of those two sides are The Riddler and The Joker, and despite King's efforts to convince the readers that such a conflict makes sense, he also made The Riddler a lot more Joker-esque.

Here, things only get worse. There's a really weird-ass scene in which King and Janin do a cover version of The Joker's origin story from Batman '89, only with the Riddler and a bullet wound to the torso rather than, you know, the whole rictus-grin clown face thing. The Riddler responds by making the bullet hole the dot at the bottom of a question mark scar he draws with a sharp object on his own chest. And then he kills the doctor, leaving bloody question marks all over the room which...well, that's not really a very Riddler-y thing to do, is it?

Later, The Joker kind of co-opts Carmine Falcone's mob, telling a top hat-less, monocle-less Penguin: "You. Fatman. You will be my assistant." Is this their very first meeting...? It seems out of character, for both characters.

There's also a scene wherein we see The Riddler recruiting Poison Ivy, seemingly by lying to her about The Joker's motives and, well, is that all it takes? Or does she just appreciate that he wears a lot of green clothing?

Finally, there are a pair of double-page spreads showing the "sides" of the two armies. Apparently The Riddler will pick-up Two-Face, The Scarecrow, Clayface, Killer Croc, Mr. Zsasz, Deathstroke and I'm guessing Firefly, while The Joker somehow gets The Mad Hatter, The Tweedles, Solomon Grundy, Mister Freeze, Man-Bat, Deadshot, Scarface and The Ventriloquist and...Cluemaster, maybe?

It remains to be seen how the various actors will be wrangled into "teams;" while some of them are clearly mercenaries or muscle that it's easy to imagine working for one villain or another given enough money or motivation, most aren't exactly rational actors, so I'm not sure why, say, The Scarecrow or Zsasz or The Hatter would pick any side at all, or why someone like, say, Scarface/The Ventriloquist would work for someone with no real organized crime ambitions like The Joker.

Beyond that, it's weird to think that all of these guys were active within a year of Batman beginning his career; apparently in the new, compressed timeline, Batman's just always had the same number of villains, with no new ones ever arriving in Gotham City...?

As I said before, I like the basic idea of the story, and this sort of all-out gang war in Gotham using all of Batman's villains isn't really something we've seen done, or at least done well, before. But over 50 pages or so in, a real premise has yet to emerge. At least with Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale's Long Halloween and Dark Victory, the creators were telling a story of sorts about a time when Gotham City crime was transitioning from traditional, real-world organized crime to the more random themed-crimes and terror attacks of costumed super-villains ("Freaks," as the mob guys in the series referred to them). They were organized, but they organized in a more-or-less logical way, doing bad things against good people. And then, of course, most of them had relatively minor roles, as guns for hire and suchlike, and a character like The Joker was a wild card rather than, I don't know, the team captain of Team Joker.

I guess this could still end up being worthwhile, but, if so, King sure is taking his time in revealing a premise beyond The Riddler and The Joker are fighting and everyone is taking sides because that's the cool story idea I had. It is a cool story idea, but it's just a story idea, not a story.

DC Comics Bombshells #30 (DC)'s 1942! There is no such person as Christian Bale yet, and won't be for over 30 more years. And I don't think there is a Batman yet. There's a Batwoman, and Batgirls, but I don't recall meeting the Bombshells-iverse's Batman yet.

Neon Genesis Evangelion: Angelic Days Vol. 6 (ADV Mannga) The first five volumes of this series have been sitting on a dresser in my bedroom in one of the half-dozen "To Be Read" piles scattered around my apartment for years now. So many years, in fact, that when I finally had the opportunity and the inclination to start reading them earlier this week, I managed to race through all five volumes in a day and, when I went to see how many more were left, I discovered online that it was just a six-volume series...but that the sixth volume was out of print! Thankfully, my local comic shop still had a copy of the sixth and final volume on their manga shelves.

This series by Fumino Hayashi is kinda sorta set in the light-hearted, romantic comedy world briefly glimpsed in the final episode of the anime series, although it quickly evolves to involve the Angels and EVAs, but Hayashi maintains the light-hearted tone and even gives most of the characters an honest-to-God happy ending, as we see the kids all grown up into adulthood in a brief scene in the fourth volume. In this concluding volume, Hayashi flashes back a bit from the ending of the fourth, to show us a little of what life was like for the kids after they grew too old to pilot the EVAs and were no long battling angels.

I wasn't crazy about the artwork, which took a little bit to get used to, but it was a relief to see these kids just being happy, and not being torn apart by angst and terrible, world-shattering secrets...Hell, I think Rei is even a normal human being in this, and Kaworu more of an It's A Wonderful Life-style angel than the more Satanic figure of the original anime.

Well, I guess I'm finally ready to tackle the much, much, much longer Shinji Ikari Raising Project...

Nightwing #24 (DC) Nightwing battles his way through Tiger Ship's boat full of villains, most of whom are relatively minor ones, but a few of whom are also very powerful minor ones (Like Magog, for example). This issue is mostly a combination fight scene and chase scene, with Dick Grayson's first-person narration introducing the various villains while he's in the process of facing and dispatching them all.

It's a pretty fun action-oriented issue, and pencil artist Miguel Mendonca and inker Diana Conesa sell it all well. Some of the villains feature some truly ghastly re-designs, but I'm assuming things like Count Vertigo's new look or this newer, secondary Clock King (one that resembled the classic version with the clock face-themed pajamas previously appeared in Deathstroke) have been imported into this issue from other comics.

Back in Bludhaven, writer Tim Seeley continues to move forward the Shawn-is-mad-that-Dick-doesn't-have-a-day-job and Shawn-needs-funding plots, which I've mentioned before seem unconvincing to me, given that Dick is one of the heirs to the Wayne fortune and should be able to fund the hell out of the Shawn's community center with a phone call. I'm afraid Seeley is leading up to her turning back to crime for a noble reason, perhaps telegraphed by the series' many references to Robin Hood, which is going to feel pretty artificial if they don't at least raise and dismiss the fact that Grayson is close, personal friends with a billionaire who loves nothing more than funding community programs to help keep young people from lives of crime.

There's one point in the narration where Dick calls himself "the Dickster" and, well, no, Dick.

Snotgirl #6 (Image Comics) Hey, after it's brief-ish hiatus, Snotgirl is back! I think I kinda dig the publishing model that it and a few other Image comics I pay attention to seem to be following, wherein individual issues are published serially, then a few months of hiatus are taken during which those issue are released in collected format, and then the individual issues resume serialization.

I do kinda wish I was trade-waiting this, because I think the story probably benefits from more time spent in it at longer intervals...and because I somehow missed the fifth issue, due to the vagaries of Diamond or my shop messing up and my not noticing until months and months later. On the other hand, I really like reading comic books in the beloved comic book format, particularly ones like this--$2.99! No ads!--and comic book-comics worth one's time, money and attention are unfortunately getting fewer and fewer and farther and farther between.

Sun Bakery #4 (Image) I do hope everyone's reading this. It's awesome.

Superman #26 (DC) After the big Manchester Black story arc that just concluded, I suppose it makes sense for a done-in-one "breather" issue like this, but, unfortunately its from the guest creative team of writer Michael Moreci and artist Scott Godlewski. They both do a decent enough job telling a story about Superman struggling to train Superboy in the best way possible, which causes Clark to flashback to lessons he learned from the late Pa Kent, but I read Superman for the creators more than the characters, so this really couldn't help but feel like a disappointment. I probably would have skipped it, were it not on my pull-list.

Okay, but how does "Legacy" fix this...?

The last time I was in my local bookstore, I saw the above collection on the shelf: Invincible Iron Man: Ironheart Vol. 1--Riri Williams. I haven't yet read it, but that is the very latest collection of Brian Michael Bendis' tenure on the Iron Man character. That tenure began in December of 2015 and, in the past 19 months, the book has already been rebooted once, which means there are now two books out there called Invincible Iron Man Vol. 1 that are both written by Brian Michael Bendis.

If you want to read Bendis' run on the Iron Man character, these are the seven books it has been collected in so far: Invincible Iron Man Vol. 1: Reboot, Invincible Iron Man 2: The War Machines, Invincible Iron Man Vol. 3: Civil War II, International Iron Man Vol. 1, Infamous Iron Man Vol. 1, Civil War II and, of course, Invincible Iron Man: Ironheart Vol. 1--Riri Williams. That is not the exact reading order, which I confess I don't really know (International is actually a standalone miniseries that seems to occur sometime before Invincible Iron Man Vol. 3, and Infamous is a spin-off that likely takes place after Civil War and Invincible Iron Man Vol. 3...those two books take place roughly simultaneously).

It's not exactly the most reader-friendly pile of books to attack, and not just because there are four different books labeled "Vol. 1" in there. One would imagine that you could start with any of those volumes with the 1 on the spine and be in a pretty good place, but if you're terribly interested in characters like Riri Williams and Victor Von Doom and want to see their earlier introductions into Bendis' narrative, then you're going to want to tackle those other books too (Perhaps more so for Riri than for Doom, as she was first introduced in these books by Bendis, where as Doom obviously has a pretty long history in the Marvel Universe in general, before Bendis started using the newer, post-Secret Wars iteration as a supporting character).

This problem isn't unique to Bendis' Iron Man comics, of course. Like, I wouldn't want to try reading his Guardians of The Galaxy run, which is replete with reboots, miniseries and one-shots, and I think I would need a coach to walk me through recent Captain America comics. God help someone brand-new to comics wandering into that aisle of the book store and thinking to one's self, "Self, I think I'd like to try and read an X-Men comic book."

At any rate, I'm not sure how the publisher's Legacy branding effort, which will include returning to the original numbering, is going to help at all. If they just knock off the new #1s and reboots, then, sure, that would help (Ironheart, for example, should just be Invincible Iron Man Vol. 4 or Vol. 5). But since the individual issues will be using some practically random number--if I had to guess, it would be a huge number in the high hundreds that is arrived at by Marvel adding all of the issues of Iron Man published under any title ever together--it will have the effect of a new #1--"Oh, this is Invincible Iron Man #679...did I read #678? No, what was the last issue I read? What was the last issue that came before this one?"--and, even if they use that as their last re-numbering scheme for the foreseeable future, it doesn't exactly help with the trade situation (There's an Infamous Iron Man Vol. 2: The Absolution of Doom on Amazon with a December release date, and an Invincible Iron Man: Ironheart Vol. 2 there with a January 2018 release date).

The more I think about it, the more I realize that the absolute best way to read Marvel comics might not be to wait six months or so after they are published, and show up in trade (which is how I've been reading them, although I do occasionally lose track and just give up among all the reboots and retitlings, as I did with Bendis' Guardians books and Jason Aaron's Thor run), but instead to wait, like, two or three or five years and see if Marvel releases them in big, hardcover omnibuses that curate them for you...

Of course, in two or three or five years, I can't be sure I will care about things like, say why Benjamin Grimm is a member of the Guardians of the Galaxy, or why Victor Von Doom is an Iron Man or whatever...

Anyway, when I saw Bendis' second Invincible Iron Man Vol. 1 on the shelf of the bookstore the other day, I immediately thought of the "Legacy" initiative, and how it seemed that it will only make things more confusing in the short term, and that I can't imagine what it does to help the trade-reading problem...

Thursday, July 06, 2017

More on this week's Archie Crossover Collection

This week Archie Comics released the above trade, Archie Crossover Collection, which includes Archie Meets Ramones and five celebrity appearances from the pages of Archie, Betty and Veronica and Kevin Keller. I reviewed it at Good Comics For Kids, if you would like to read more about it there.

The biggest takeaways are, I think, that 1) Archie Comics has regularly and somewhat accidentally published some the absolute weirdest comics of the decade and that 2) Gisele Lagace is the best and you should probably look at everything she draws.

Here are some further items of note I thought worth mentioning while reading through the trade...

Gisele Lagace
1.) Mr. Weatherbee sure has changed a lot in the course of 40 years. The Archie have been transported to 1976 New York City, via a magical Ramones record given to them by Sabrina, The Teenage Witch. When they reluctantly take the stage, young Archie Andrews finds himself confronted by...Mr. Weatherbee? I do believe that's meant to be Archie's dad right next to the Bee, calling The Archies a bunch of losers (It's not mentioned in the scene, but that guy has the same mustache as Mr. Andrews, and it was previously established he was a Ramones fan).

It's funny, but adding a layer of weirdness to this is, of course, the fact that in "our" 1976, Mr. Weatherbee looked and acted exactly as he does in our 2017, as, like all of the characters, he hasn't aged since the 1940s. It might even be possible that the Mr. Weatherbee in the above image could leave the concert venue, walk to the nearest drug store or newstand and buy an issue of an Archie comic featuring a different version of himself!

Trippy, huh?

2.) The Ramones don't even pretend to like The Archies. One of the running gags of the book is that The Archies, who are never referred to by anyone in the scene as anything other than The Starchies, are awful.

Archie gets about one and a half lines into a song in that scene where young Master Weatherbee is hassling them before he gets hit in the egg with a face and they're booed off the stage. Dee Dee Ramones' casual dismissal of them above is actually pretty typical of their response to The Archies/Starchies.

The Ramones take the stage immediately after the Archies are forced from it, and they play "Blitzkreig Bop." They are surprised to see the Archies still hanging around after the show, and when Betty asks, "Why would we leave?" they are ready with several answers.

"Does this mean we can't play the battle of the bands?" Archie asks. "If it was up to us you'd never play music again," Dee Dee replies, just as cheerfully as his dismissal of them above.

While Alex Segura and Matthew Rosenberg's script is somewhat hagiographic of The Ramones, as one would likely expect it to be, it's consistent in its dismissal of The Archies. They do play some well-received songs eventually, both at CBGBs and in modern-day Riverdale, but these are Ramones covers ("I Don't Wanna Go Down to the Basement," "Judy is a Punk"), but it was nice to see The Archies being belittled as much as they are throughout the issue...particularly given the stories that follow, which treat both the Archie comics characters as the guest stars so gently.

Jeff Shultz and Jim Amash
3.) Archie Comics had permission to use Lady Gaga's name and likeness for her appearance in Betty and Veronica, but not her lyrics...I guess? I know very, very little about Lady Gaga and her body of work, but one thing I do know is that she has a song called "Poker Face." (I know this because back when that song was in heavy rotation, my nieces told me the following joke: "What's the best way to wake up Lady Gaga when she's asleep? Poke her face.")

But as you can see, in the Archie-verse, it's "Poker Head." I thought that was pretty weird. There are some other bits of lyrics that are slightly changed, or at least appear to be (she doesn't sing about salami in any of her songs, does she?), and these seem like the sorts of changes you would make if you were using a Lady Gaga analogue, like Lady Googoo or something, not if Lady Gaga herself signed off on the project.

The best I can figure is that there is some legal issue I don't understand, like maybe Lady Gaga signed off on what she could, but the rights to her lyrics are tied to another entity, and that entity didn't want to participate, or Archie didn't want to approach them because it wasn't worth it for two or three panels or...what.

Anyway, the most memorable part of this crossover for me was trying to figure out that aspect.

Dan Parent and Amash
4.) The background action is where it's really at in these older, pre-reboot Archie Comics. This is from the Mark Zuckerberg issue (When I told my 14-year-old niece, a huge Riverdale fan, about this book, she asks who Mark Zuckerberg was). The main action is the dialogue between Archie and Dilton Doiley, but man, check out the background! There's a generically pretty girl who could be Betty for all the detail she's drawn with, and she's seemingly ecstatic to catch a glimpse of that hunky Archie Andrews, and then around the corner...Man, what's going on there?

Did that girl cut off the giant, and he's angry? Did she step on his foot, and that's why he's glowering at her? Was he just standing there, fuming about something, and she's walking quickly and gingerly by, terrified?

No offense to Mark Zuckerberg, but I'm really much more interested in what's going on in that hallway than I am with his competition with Dilton.

Parent and Amash
5.) By one measure, this first panel was the funniest part of the book. The Ramones issue and the Michael Strahan issue (Confession: I had to ask a friend who Strahan was) were the two best-written of five stories included in here, and both are full of pretty effective gags. That said, the only time I actually laughed out loud was at Reggie's awesome/dumb diss of Archie in that first panel.

I also kind of love how angry Reggie looks, as he furiously eats that apple. I am tempted to watch Riverdale just to see if the guy who plays Reggie is portrayed like that, and if he always looks like he's pissed-off. I understand that the series has a murder mystery aspect to it, and Reggie's not a major suspect, but man, if anyone killed anyone in Riverdale, I would just kinda assume it must have been Reggie Mantle who pulled the trigger.

Also humorous, but in the accidental way, is the fact that Archie is feeling down because all the girls in his school are suddenly madly in love with Mark Zuckerberg, international sexy symbol.

Parent and Rich Koslowski
6.) I would really like to hear Jughead's report. The plot of the George Takei guest-starring issue of Kevin Keller was that the actor was so impressed with Kevin's essay about him that he decides to visit Kevin's school. The specific assignment was "People Who Inspire Us," and,in the panel above, we see who the other members of the gang chose.

The characters' immortality amused me here, too, as Archie and Reggie were both born before their heroes...although in Archie's case, it was at least close.

You know, Archie Comics could probably have gotten Colonel Sanders to appear. He's been starring in some extremely weird-ass DC Comics crossovers anyway, to hear Chris Sims tell it at the late, great Comics Alliance (I miss you so much, Comics Alliance! And not just the occasional check, but because I don't know where the fuck to go to get comics news anymore! I just have to hope whatever it is turns out to be a big enough deal that Tom Spurgeon covers it, and it usually isn't!).

Parent and Koslowski
7.) I confess that I love generic cosplay. So scenes at comics conventions can be pretty damn awesome, as any sort of real-world convention would of course have tons of copy-righted characters from many different media walking around, but when said convention is a fictional one, appearing in a comic book or cartoon or movie or TV show, the makers of that particular scene have to improvise, and they generally come up with some pretty bizarre analogues.

There was that one Harley Quinn issue where she visited San Diego Comic Con and, conveniently enough, everyone there seemed to be dressed like a DC Comics character, or a generic one. There's a pretty fun direct-to-DVD Scooby-Doo movie Mask of The Blue Falcon where the gang solve a mystery at a convention, and all the characters and pop culture detritus is associated with Hanna-Barbera superheroes of old, many of whom ended up appearing Future Quest (I'm still waiting for a Blue Falcon Hanna-Barbereboot comic, by the way... maybe drawn by John McCrea?).

Here artist Dan Parent just went with all-analogue route, save for Jughead and Ethel both dressing as Spock (on the next page, she embraces Jughead and says they can be "Spocks in love," which I am pretty sure is a ship somewhere on the Internet). I'm a little surprised he didn't go the route of the Scooby-Doo movie, and dress the characters as, like, Red Circle heroes or something. Of course, if he did, he wouldn't get to see Veronica's Wonder Woman costume, which sounds like she might have made it based on someone who has never seen Wonder Woman relaying what he remembered someone else saying the character looked like.

At the con, there's some pretty insane cosplaying going on, some of it close-ish to actual characters, like a guy wearing an orange Green Lantern shirt (not with the Orange Lantern symbol, mind you; it's an orange t shirt with a white GL symbol in the middle of it) or a Spider-Man with big blue pupils in his white eyes and a visible frowny face and so on. I'm 90% sure there was a toddler dressed like Mr. Weatherbee too...

Parent and Koslowski
8.) "Broad Impact"....? Kevin will just not shut up about George Takei. After Takei has visited their school and given a short speech, Kevin and a friend he reconnected with at the Smithville Comic-Con are going to the movies together, and Kevin's still talking about Takei. But forget that, what are they going to see...?

Something romantic, like the poster Kevin's friend's head is partially obscuring...Love and Rockets? Love and Ghosts? Love and Bigfoots?

Or are they going to see what I can only assume is a pretty awesome female-lead action movie, Broad Impact...? I don't know what a film with that title could be about, but I hope it stars Ronda Rousey or Gina Carano or Zoe Bell going back in time to the 1930s or 1940s and beating up everyone calling them broad, bird, frail and so on.

Parent and Koslowski
9.) I love the look on this lady's face. This panel immediately follows the one with the Broad Impact poster. What is going on in that lady's head?

I suppose Dan Parent was just drawing a bored face. But perhaps she's rolling her eyes and frowning at Kevin sounding so sanctimonious, and she's sick of hearing him talk about this, even though it's only been for a few panels?

Perhaps she's there as an example of the fact that "There's always more work to be done," and she's thinking something like, "Look at these two gays, out on a gay date, gaily. Back in my day, this would have never happened."

Perhaps she's looking at Brian's banana yellow safari shirt, and she can't believe he's actually wearing it out in public.

Or perhaps this is her first day at work at a brand-new movie theater that has just been built, and she's just now realizing that when they were building the ticket window, they neglected to leave any sort of space or opening through which customers could hand her money or cards and she could hand them tickets to the movies?

10.) But will there be a volume two...? I was a little surprised that the above issue, the first half of a two-parter involving then-President of the United States Barack Obama and then-ex-Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, was not included herein. It was certainly from around the same time as many of these non-Ramones comics.

The Zuckerberg issue was Archie #624, and the Strahan issue was #626. Just scrolling through the covers between the Obama/Palin story and the book's cancellation with 2015's Archie #666 , there are covers featuring X Factor Vs. American Idol ("Simon Vs. J.Lo!" the cover reads), Archie Meets KISS and Archie Meets Glee. It's possible they're saving Obama/Palin for a future volume 2 of this collection.

Or it's just as possible that they didn't include it because no one remembers who Sarah Palin is anymore...?

(Seriously, I do wonder if the higher-ups at Archie now regard that issue as a mistake. It seemed weird, even that the time, that the President of the United States of America was paired not with, say, Senator John McCain or a real political rival, but the vice-presidential candidate on the ticket he defeated a little over two years prior to that comic's release. If I'm remembering my recent political history right--and I may not be!--this was well after Palin resigned as Alaskan governor mid-term and when there was still semi-serious speculation that she might run for president in 2012.)

If there is a second volume, rather than Obama, Palin, Simon, J.Lo, the cast of characters from Glee and that Sharknadow one-shot (which I've already bought and read), I would prefer to see something--anything!--collecting Archie Meets The Punisher.