Thursday, July 27, 2017

Comic Shop Comics: July 27th

All-Star Batman #12 (DC Comics) Oh ho! Good job, Scott Snyder! You totally got me! The title of this story arc is "The First Ally," and I just sort of assumed that it was referring to Alfred Pennyworth, and the fact that he was Batman's first ally, seeing as this book is called All-Star Batman and not All-Star Alfred Pennyworth ("Who the hell do you think I am? I'm the goddam butler!"). But, in actuality, the First Ally is Briar, the dude from the Alfred-centric flashbacks, and he's not Batman's first ally, but Alfred's! So good show there, Snyder.

The issue, like all of Snyder's Batman work, is quite well written, although I think it's safe to say that Snyder is probably pushing it with the parallels, as young Alfred found himself being recruited to be trained as a "black ledger" British super-agent that Briar refers to as a "Dark Knight." What a funny coincidence! That's one of Batman's nicknames!

While Snyder has Briar sell the concept pretty well, it tracks so close to Christopher Nolan and company's conception of Batman as a pretend pariah, scapegoat cultural figure in the movie The Dark Knight--something that wasn't too terribly convincing, given how the scene in which that idea was expressed played out--that it seems as if Snyder had the film playing in the background during his first draft of this scene.

Artist Rafael Albuquerque continues to do a pretty great job on the artwork, although I really don't care for his monocole-less Penguin, as it's hard to even identify the character given his costuming he here: He just looks like a long-haired fat guy in his Hawaiian shirt, lacking any of his accessories. And The Penguin has more accessories than just about anyone.

The back-up, written by Albuquerque and Rafael Scavone and drawn by Sebastian Fiumara continues to look fantastic--there are a couple of panels that are quite evocative of David Mazzucchelli's "Year One" art--but it occurred to me while reading this chapter that this is basically just a Batman-fights-a-generic-crime story of the sort that feels kind of unimportant compared to everything else that's occurred in All-Star Batman so far.

Dark Days: The Casting #1 (DC) Yes, this came out a few weeks ago, but I didn't get a copy until today, as my local comic shop was all sold out before I could get there. I suppose that shouldn't be too surprising: It's Scott Snyder (and James Tynion) writing a Batman-centric crisis story, with art by Jim Lee, Andy Kubert and John Romita Jr. And there's metallic ink on the cover? Is that a selling point? Me, I hate it. The not-terribly-engaging cover that Lee drew doesn't really support the ink; it's literally jsut a few characters standing around, looking at something that shocks a few of them somewhere off-cover. The Joker kneels before Batman, covering his feet (four characters, zero feet!), looking in the same direction, but seeming a little happier about whatever's over there. (Also, it doesn't scan well, so there's no picture of it above; I went with Batman fighting a gryphon instead, which is more metal than metallic ink anyway.)

This is the second half of the two-part prelude to the Dark Days: Metal event series, but it has it's own #1 and a different sub-title than the first half because, I don't know, comics hates us.

Snyder continues his rather Morrisonian synthesis of pre-existing DCU elements created across decades by dozens of creators, coming up with a new and rather interesting (so far) unified theory of what makes the DC Universe the DC Universe. Hint: The metal is apparently Nth Metal, and there's more to it than we ever thought, including the fact that Hawkman Carter Hall (and his wife?) didn't start their cycle of death and reincarnation in ancient Egypt upon their first contact with the metal, but have been doing it for much further back. And it may even be traces of Nth Metal that causes meta-human; (a?) The Joker even spells it out to Duke Thomas at one point, so that it becomes clear that "meta" is just one letter away from "metal." Huh.

Snyder's script, or at least the part that accounts for Carter Hall's journal, rather pointedly contradicts DC's post-Flashpoint/New 52 continuity, as ad hoc and slapdash as it was. Here, Hall and his wife were Hawkman and Hawkgirl in "the first decades of the 20th century" (although Kubert pencils them in their Silver Age, Thanagarian costumes), which would place two more superheroes before the first appearance of Superman. The wizard Shazam is one of the many immortals that appear in one rather intriguing scene, and he looks to be closer in appearance to the pre-Flashpoint Shazam, than the post-Flashpoint one (who was black). Hawkman also worked with The Challengers of The Unknown and The Blackhawks, although the when isn't exactly clear.

Anyway, Snyder works a birds vs. bats, light vs. dark symbology pretty hard throughout, which certainly makes a sort of sense when one considers the wings of angels vs. those of bats, at least in a certain kind of Medieval Chistian symbology, although it's made pretty clear that "this"--whatever this is exactly--goes back far farther than Medieval Christianity...or even Christ.

Batman is globe-trotting, trying to solve the mystery of Nth Metal. Along the way, he meets Wonder Woman and Talia al Ghul (he also fights a gryphon while wearing a suit of bat-emblazoned armor). Meanwhile, Green Lantern Hal Jordan and Duke Thomas contend with The Joker imprisoned in the Batcave (while there has been mention of three Jokers, this Joker is the one that Snyder has been writing since the first issue of the previous volume of Batman #1; the one from "Death of The Family" and "Endgame"). And then there's Hawkman's story, told through his journal.

While Kubert draws the Hawkman thread, JRJR handles the Batman business and Lee the Batcave business, although they overlap a bit near the end, when Batman returns to the Batcave.

Detective Comics #961 (DC) So it's come to this, has it?

Also, someone with the surname "Zatara" mind-wipes Bruce Wayne, so this single issue manages to refer back to two questionable storylines--one I liked and one I didn't, but both of which should be erased by the reboot and thus not referred to like this in these new stories.

I have to admit the passing reference to The Obeah Man, the one-off villain who killed Tim Drake's mom and plunged his father into a coma shortly after the events of "A Lonely Place of Dying" in the early 1990s, intrigued me, as I always thought it was weird that Drake as Robin never had any kind of major encounter with the character, who was basically his Joe Chill. It always seemed to Young Caleb that The Obeah Man could have rather easily been made into one of Robin's own personal rogues (Not unlike Anarky, originally presented as a kind of anti-Robin, although they only had a few fleeting encounters, and then like a decade passed before someone did some dumb stuff with Drake and Anarky).

Of course, that too is something that sticks out awkwardly here, as it's not exactly like The Obeah Man and John Zatara would be in similar circles, even as far as magic goes, and, again, that particular storyline in which The Obeah Man originally appeared was made irrelevant by the reboot. Unlike other aspects of the Batman Family's saga, Tim Drake's life story was rather radically re-written.

Die Kitty Die: Summer Vacation Special #1 (Chapterhouse) I'm...not sure who Derek is, or who this "Assie" might be, as no one by either name nor matching either's appearance is actually inside the book. Katty is, but just as part of an ensemble in the pin-ups.

This 23-page $3.99 one-shot is much like the original Die Kitty Die miniseries and what I've read of the second one. In other words, it's a pretty good concept, with the lead character being the buxom, Sabrina-like witch who is the real-life star of a comics publisher whose line is an old-school Archie/Harvey hybrid, and the tone being somewhat risque comedy...albeit risque in a juvenile, PG-13 rather than R-rated kind of way. The fact that is create by Archie comics creators Dan Parent and Fernando Ruiz is just frosting.

The problem? It's just not that funny. Like, at all. There's one pretty great visual gag in here, and I think it was presumably just something contributing artist Gisele Lagace inserted into the foreground of a panel, as Parent and Ruiz's background comics titles and images aren't usually that...unusual.

There are two short stories in this issue, both of which occur mostly at the beach. The first, a 10-pager by the regular creative team, finds Kitty and friends at the beach, enjoying tacos sold by two monsters from a nearby taco truck. When two of her friends disappear, Kitty investigates, and finds that the monsters were using tacos to lure kids to their homes to feed them to a bigger, scarier monster. For reasons not quite clear, these monsters seem to concentrate on child stars, who they bury up to their neck in their gardens, and then label them. The names of the stars should give you an idea of how fresh the humor here is; they span the gamut from Lil Rascal Alfalfa and Shirley Temple to Britney Spears and Jaleel White (they are labeled with cutesy analog names though, so White is "Jerkel", for example, and the head labeled "Screech" is harvested and referred to as "Justin Jewel...'Leech' on that show 'Shaved By The Smell.'")

So yeah, not exactly cutting edge or anything.

That's followed by a story written by Ruiz and drawn and lettered by Gisele Lagace, whose art I just discovered rather recently (and rather by accident), and who is an all-around terrific artist. While the fact that the series is drawn by Parent is a part of its essential joke, it's safe to say that Kitty and company have never looked so good as they do in these five pages. Kitty and her friends are going to the beach with her new boyfriend, a cyclops named "Eye-Van" who speaks in what I assume is supposed to be an Eastern European accent. It looks great, but, again, the only really funny part is that one image Lagace drew, as opposed to any of the jokes, which are about how outsiders don't seem to know how the comics industry works and a double entendre referring to a handjob.

Those two stories accounts for just 15 pages. The rest are filled by pin-ups, from Parent, Andrew Pepoy, Dean Haspiel, J. Bone, Joe Staton, Thom Zahler and Bill Golliher. Some of them are about what you would expect from a pin-up in this book (Pepoy's, especially), but most are just images of Kitty doing stuff, some of it summer-related and some of it not.

Lumberjanes #40 (Boom Studios) In true Lumberjanes fashion, this issue would seem to be the natural conclusion of the Parent's Day/Fox spirit story arc, as the various conflicts introduced in its first chapter are all resolved and the girls even say goodbye to their parents. But it's not the end! There's at least one more issue to go, as Fox is revealed to be answering to a bigger, scarier creature of some kind, and we finally meet Molly's late-arriving parents.

They are only on two pages, but for the longest time it's been foreshadowed that part of the reason Molly didn't want the summer to ever end was that she didn't want to go home because something was wrong there, and the implication was that her parents didn't accept the fact that she was gay. Well, maybe there's more to it, as when her mom sees her, she roughly grabs her arm and yells at her. Rosie intervenes immediately, and we see Molly rubbing her arm.

I don't know exactly where they are going with this, but a case could certainly be made that child abuse is being pretty heavily implied and, no offense Shannon Watters and Kat Leyh, but that's not really a subject I wanna see tackled in the pages of Lumberjanes, as the sudden shift of focus to something so deadly serious in this particular book can't help but feel off. There's would be an aura of the "very special episode" about it, given the usual subject matter and tone of the book. We'll see, I guess.

Saga #45 (Image Comics) Fiona Staples and Brian K. Vaughan usually like to open an issue of Saga with one of Staples' regular amazing, crazy, "Well there's something I never thought I'd see" splash pages, but here the issue ends with such an image, when there's a reveal of what I guess is the space equivalent of a back-alley abortionist. There's a point earlier in the book where a character says the place our heroes are headed--The Badlands--"is run by monsters."

"And that ain't a figure of speech," another chimes in.

The last page is devoted to what is apparently one of those monsters. And, yes, that is literally a monster, although I haven't seen that particular monster drawn in that particular way in a comic book before, and certainly not in that particular field of...medicine...? (I don't want to get too deep into abortion politics here, but to reap, a very pregnant Alana had a miscarriage, and her son is now dead inside her, so the gang traveled to what is apparently an Old West-themed abortion planet, only to be turned away, and now they are seeking a less legal, scrupulous and safe way to remove the dead child. Look, this is a really weird comic, okay?)

Scooby-Doo Team-Up #28 (DC) In this issue, Sholly Fisch, who has the most fun gig at DC Comics, wants to team Scooby-Doo and the gang up with Jonah Hex and a couple other old timey DC Western heroes (Namely Bat Lash and Cinnamon). How would he and regular artist Dario Brizuela accomplish such a feat? Time travel?

No. In a more-complicated-than-usual set-up, Fred and friends are rummaging around the Jones family attic when they discover Freddy's great-great-grandfather Frederick Jones' journal. Frederick, who looked just like Freddy save for a mustache, used to travel around the Old West in a covered wagon called The Conundrum Contraption, chasing ghosts and monsters with his friends Thelma Lou, Carrie, Gabby and Smiley-Doo. In other words, the Scooby Gang essentially play their own ancestors for a period-specific mystery in the town of Blizzard's Belly.

The monster terrorizing town is a big, scary, metallic one in a poncho, and while there aren't too many suspects, there are a few guest-stars, as Bat Lash is on the run from bounty hunters Jonah Hex and Cinnamon, who Daphne is constantly being mistaken for, much to her irritation.

It's...well, it's pretty awesome, actually.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles/Usagi Yojimbo (IDW Productions) After teaming-up with IDW's version of The Ghostbusters and Batman (twice!), this is a much more natural, even traditional TMNT team-up, with Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird's anthropomorphic ninjas from the 1980s black-and-white boom sharing panel space with Stan Sakai's anthropomorphic samurai from the 1980s black-and-white boom. I was immediately dismayed when I saw these at the comic shop and saw there were three variant covers to choose from. The one from Mouse Guard's David Petersen was easily dismissed, as I'm a fan of his comics, but not his version of these characters. But the other two were by Sergio Aragones and Sakai himself; how am I supposed to choose between the two of them?

Usually when presented with such an impossible choice of covers, I decide to just wait for the trade, which will most likely include all the variants in a gallery form in the back, but given that this is a rather meaty one-shot, it won't be in trade. But then, I got to thinking--maybe it should be?

Usagi first crossed paths (and swords) with a ninja turtle in 1987 anthology Turtle Soup, featuring Leonardo. The following year, Peter Laird contributed an eight-page story (once again featuring just Leonardo) in the pages of Usagi Yojimbo #10. The next year, it was Sakai's turn again, and Leonardo traveled back to Usagi's time to help him battle the Neko Ninjas in the anthology Shell Shock. And then finally, in 1992, the "Shades of Green" story arc in the newly relaunched (at Mirage) Usagi Yojimbo brought all four turtles into Usagi's world, via a rat sorcerer that looked identical to Splinter. That's over 80 pages right there, so add in this 40-page one-shot, a gallery of covers, the drawing Sakai first made of his character and one of Eastman and Laird's that lead to the collaborations and, well, that's a trade's worth right there. Most of those individual stories have all been collected somewhere or other previously, but I don't think anyone of the two groups of characters has ever collected all of the crossovers between a single set of covers before, nor using that as the organizing principle for a trade paperback collection.

The one thing I'd want is an introduction of some kind, like an interview with Sakai or perhaps Kevin Eastman, or at the very least an essay by someone knowledgeable tracking Usagi Yojimbo's history with the Turtles, as some of isn't limited to the comics (the toyline and the cartoons, as previously mentioned). After finishing this issue, I was happy to see that IDW Publisher Ted Adams actually interviewed Sakai briefly in the back of this issue about that very subject; it's not as thorough as I would have liked, but I'm still glad it was there.

After eventually deciding on the Sakai cover and then bringing it home to read last night, the desire for a trade collection became even more urgent, as the inside front cover shows postage-sized stamps images of all the various variant covers. Not only were there the three I saw in my shop, but also a couple by Kevin Eastman (with Sakai; it looks like Sakai at least penciled the Usagis on those covers, but it's hard to tell who did what at that tiny size) and a couple different covers by Sakai as well.

As for the story, it is pretty much a direct sequel to "Shades of Green." Usagi Yojimbo is asked by Kakera, the Splinter lookalike (although, as Sakai's art has changed over the decades, he looks less like his old self, or any version of Splinter) once again requests the rabbit warriors assistance in a quest to save all of Japan. Essentially, he must return a fragment of a magic stone to a particular place to properly imprison a monster, whose convulsions are threatening to destroy the country in a terrible earthquake.

Because their foes are so many, and they include Jei, Kakera uses the same spell he did in "Shades" to call forth the Turtles (If you haven't yet read that, it's kinda neat; they gather four turtles from a pond, and the spell transforms those turtles into the Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael and Michaelangelo Michelangelo. When the adventure is over, the counter-spell is cast, and the turtles become ordinary turtles again, rather than the physical components of the characters from the TMNT comics).

This is slightly different, as these aren't the original Mirage/"Volume One" Turtles, the ones who appeared in "Shades," but those from the current IDW/"Volume Five" Turtles. This is apparent when they initially attack Usagi, and he's surprised to find that Leonardo doesn't recognize him. Kakera realizes that these aren't the exact same Turtles they had met before, but are from "a different reality than the last time" he called upon them. That's a pretty elegant solution, really and, for the purposes of this story, the fact that Leo and the others have no memory of Usagi and his world are really the only things differentiating this version of the Turtles from the other (Well, that and their color-coded masks, of course).

It's a pretty straightforward story. Fight scene, delineation of the quest and a spell to summon their allies, fight scene, travel sequence, fight scene, fight scene. The last one is a pretty damn big fight scene too, with the climax coming in the form of two consecutive double-page spreads showing a single scene across its four pages (I'm not a huge fan of comic book gimmickry, but man, that would have looked amazing in a fold-out).

As with all previous Usagi Yojimbo crossovers, it's a great introduction to the work of Stan Sakai and his signature creation, and it also serves as a bit of reminder of what the Turtles used to be like, before the current, sprawling, multi-titled IDW Volume Five iteration--little in the way of continuity, leaving the focus on the art and the milieu.

And may I again state for the record: IDW should totally do a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles/Usagi Yojimbo collection (but don't colorize it, unless you can do a good job of it, which I have seen little evidence of so far!), gathering all of the crossovers to date, along with a solid introduction and/or interviews with  or forewords by Adams and Eastman (and Laird, if possible!).

I'm pretty confident I have all of those crossovers somewhere in my longboxes, but I would certainly pay good money to have them all between the same set of covers.

Wonder Woman #27 (DC) I was a little surprised at how final this issue felt, in terms of the concluding a conflict that began last issue, which was, of course, new writer Shea Fontana's first on the series. It was my understanding that her five-issue run would comprise a single arc, and it may, but aside from a weird transition to a seemingly random cliffhanger in the last panels of the issue, this felt a lot like the second half of a two-part story. We'll see.

Artist Mirka Andolfo really knocks it out of the park here--I particularly enjoyed her flashback to a little girl version of Diana training on Themyscira, which reminded me of both that one scene from the film and Wonder Tot--and alternately depicts the title character as vulnerable, bad-ass, sexy and grimly determined (The panel where she seemingly goes into automatic as she puts her tiara on in profile? That is a great panel).

Fontana and Andolfo even manage to work in a little light bondage--a mad doctor type shackles an unconscious Wonder Woman to a table for a procedure at one point--which I'm sure William Moulton Marston would have approved of.

So far, the new (and temporary) creative team's run on Wonder Woman has certainly felt less epic and, I suppose, less important, but it also feels newer and somewhat refreshing: Rather than fussing over the character's origin story and trying to convince everyone they've come up with the way it should be told, they are just telling Wonder Woman stories. It's kinda cool to just see the book finally getting on with it after some five and a half years of "Everything you thought you knew about Wonder Woman is wrong!"

1 comment:

Jose Gregorio Bencomo Gomez said...

I think the Obeah Man did show up again in the last issue of Tim Drake's classic Robin regular series.

Anyway, I'm not surprised he never showed up much, since he was kind of... racially troubling, being an evil Haitian Voodoo black stereotype of sorts.