Monday, September 25, 2017

DC's December previews reviewed

Say, did you know that DC released the solicitations for the comics they intend to publish last Monday, a full week ago? I completely missed them, which came as something of a shock to me, as I used to live for those things. Even before I started blogging, I enjoyed devouring those things, and looking forward to what was coming up a few months hence.

The fact that days and days can pass without my even noticing the solicitations these days probably speaks to my growing disinterest in monthly super-comics, sure, but it also speaks to the sorry state of online comics coverage. I used to read Comic Book Resources and Comics Alliance daily, and so I would inevitably see the solicits there. CA is, sadly, no more, and if something somewhere has sprung up to replace it, I haven't heard of it yet. And CBR is...a lot different than it was when I was contributing to the Robot 6 blog they hosted. While I'm sure there are still a lot of fine people who contribute there, it's gotten noticeably more Hollywood-focused and, well, Wizard-y. Plus the ads generally make reading it a chore.

I mainly get my comics news now from Tom Spurgeon's Comics Reporter, sometimes The Beat when I'm bored (I mostly enjoy the month-to-month sales analysis there) and Twitter, which is where it seems that most comics news comes from these days anyway.

This is a long way of saying that basically Tom Spurgeon needs to start running solicitations on his site. No, it's really a long way of saying, "Damn, this monthly feature I do is late as hell this month!" The weird thing, I'm not sure that anyone noticed, or at least no one raised their fists and demanded to know why I hadn't written "DC's December previews reviewed" and "Marvel's December previews reviewed" yet. Which lead to a slight existential dilemma--regarding the exist of these posts, not my own existence, of course--should I keep doing them...?

I mean, I probably will, because I pretty much write about everything comics-related I read these days as a reflex, and doing so is a good form of procrastination that keeps me from writing the things I should be writing, but, anyway, I was thinking about it...

Anyway, here is your very, very late look at the comics DC plans to publish in December...

Written by ALAN GRANT
Following the devastating earthquake that rocked Gotham City, Anarky becomes one of thousands of refugees streaming out of the ruined city. On the hunt to find his missing parents, Anarky must confront the possibility that his biological father is none other than the Joker!
Collects ANARKY #1-8.
On sale JANUARY 17 • 200 pg, FC, $19.99 US • ISBN: 978-1-4012-7534-1

Say, have you enjoyed Anarky Lonnie Manchin's recent appearances in Detective Comics? Really? You have? Well then I suppose there's a pretty good chance you didn't read this rather short-lived 1999 ongoing series by the character's creators, which have him in a much cooler costume--a mild-ish, better-fitting version of his original costume, which served a particular function in the first story in which he appeared--and demonstrates that he's actually a much smarter character well-versed in political theory and philosophy than the guy who showed up recently in 'Tec.

The series began after a 1997 waters-testing miniseries, during which Anarky moved from Gotham City to operate on a world (or worlds, really) stage, becoming more an outlaw superhero than an outlaw urban vigilante. When he learns of a monstrous threat to the Earth, he seeks to warn the JLA, who are skeptical of him, and then attempts to take matters into his own hands, by stealing Kyle Rayner's Green Lantern ring (which lead to a GL redesign of his costume, which is one of the earliest such instances I can think of in which a superhero gets a Green Lantern ring that essentially amalgamates his regular costume with a Corps-specific design; 1994's Batman: In Darkest Knight did this to a degree with Batman's costume, then whiffed when other heroes got GL rings, essentially just giving them GL logos on their regular costumes).
From there, Anarky comes into conflict with Ra's al Ghul, participates in the Day of Judgement crossover (which means we get to see The Haunted Tank in action)
and, for the series finale, wrestles with the knowledge that he real father is one of Batman's worst enemies...or at least, one of Alan Grant's favorites from among Batman's worst enemies.
Given how short the series was, it's kind of a disappointment that DC isn't also including the four-part miniseries, which featured appearances by Etrigan The Demon, Darkseid and, of course, Batman (Breyfogle draws one of the all-time best Etrigans, in my estimation). Of course, that was collected in a trade format by itself once before, but I'd bet you $5 it's out of print at the moment...

Anyway, I heavily endorse this product, as it is the work of one of my favorite Batman creative teams, the all-around best Batman artist and it stars one of my favorite Batman characters...

Speaking of great Batman artists from the 1990s, this is the cover for Graham Nolan, Chuck Dixon and company's Bane: Conquest #8. Damn, check out that Batman in the lower right corner...

Variant cover by KEVIN EASTMAN
The team behind the smash-hit crossover series is back to reunite the Dark Knight and the Heroes in a Half-Shell. When Donatello goes looking for a new mentor to help him improve his fighting skills, he opens a doorway to another reality, hoping to summon the Turtles’ one-time ally, Batman. But instead, he gets sent to Gotham City and someone else comes through the open portal—Bane! Suddenly, there’s a new gang boss in New York and he’s out to unite all the other bad guys under him. Can Donnie get back in time and bring Batman with him to help his brothers before Bane causes irreparable destruction? Co-published with IDW.
On sale DECEMBER 6 • 32 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED T

I assume the first of these sold pretty damn well, as this is the third one, and it's a direct sequel to the original, with the exact same creative team. It is still not at all what I want and, in fact, that this is a sequel to the original makes it even more disappointing, as there is just so much ground to cover with these characters. The number one thing I want from any crossover between these characters is to see Batman artists past and present (Tim Sale, Kelley Jones, Graham Nolan, Jim Lee, Riley Rossmo, John Romita Jr, etc) drawing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and TMNT artists past and present (Jim Lawson, Eric Talbot, Mark Martin, Sophie Campbel, etc) drawing Batman and company.

Seeing comics like this exist makes me wish I was a professional comics writer who could pitch publishers, even though the industry around the medium can seem so toxic, because man, there are very, very few things I would like to see happen exactly as I want them than a Batman/TMNT crossover...!

The crossover just before this one was the IDW-spearheaded Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures series, which was a crossover between the Batman: The Animated Series version of the Batman characters and the latest cartoon version of the TMNT characters. It wasn't great, but it was at least as good as the Tynion/Williams series, and had some memorable moments. More importantly, it was something different, and this particular series sounds like it will be anything but that.

Art and cover by TONY S. DANIEL and DANNY MIKI
Ethan “Elvis” Avery just wanted to serve his country. Instead, he’s been changed into a monster! Tasked as the government’s own living, breathing, ticking time bomb, Ethan retains no control when the monster takes over. Cheaper than a nuclear warhead and twice as effective, Ethan fights to rein in the damage he unleashes when the beast inside him springs free for one hour a day. With everyone around him in danger, Ethan struggles to contain the DAMAGE he inflicts on the DC Universe.
On sale DECEMBER 20 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • FOLDOUT COVER • RATED T+

Yikes! Well, I guess that's one way to keep the "Damage" trademark, but this looks the opposite of promising. In fact, it looks awfully Hulk-y, doesn't it...?

DC Comics’ finest talents have assembled to bring you a holiday special like you’ve never seen before! Join Superman, Wonder Woman and the Flash as they deliver powerful messages of hope like only The Worlds Greatest Super-Heroes can! Plus: Sgt. Rock fights the Nazis on Hanukah, the Teen Titans take on the literal ghost of Christmas past, and Swamp Thing battles that creeping feeling of existential dread! And don’t miss the legendary Denny O’Neil’s return to comics with an all-new Batman story!
ONE-SHOT • On sale DECEMBER 6 • 96 pg, FC, $9.99 US • RATED T

These are almost always somewhat disappointing, but I love them nevertheless. That's a pretty swell cover by Kubert, at least in conception--I think he should maybe take another pass on The Flash there, though. "Swamp Thing battles that creeping feeling of existential dread!" sound a little too...real for a Christmas special, doesn't it? If there is a scene where someone's Christmas tree turns into Swamp Thing, and he steps out of the tree skirt, gradually brushing off ornaments and lights but forgetting the fact that he's wearing a star on his head like a hat, I'll be fine with it though.

Written by PHIL HESTER
Art and cover by STEVE RUDE
For years, archaeologist turned superhero Ray Randall has aided Inter-Nation in their quest to make the world a safer place as the one and only Birdman! But when a group of ancient gods reemerge to destroy everything in their path, Birdman must choose between following them or fighting them for the fate of the planet. Can Birdman and his falcon companion, Avenger, find out who’s behind this resurrection before it’s too late? Don’t miss the first part of this epic three-issue adventure!
On sale DECEMBER 20 • 32 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED T

Okay, yes it's weird that DC Comics has Steve Rude willing to draw superhero comics for them, and the particular superhero he is drawing is fucking Birdman instead of, you know, pretty much anyone else. That's fine. One takes one's Steve Rude-drawn superheroes wherever one can find them.

I have no idea what on Earth is going on here on Guillem March's cover to Gotham City Garage #5, but I'm into it.

Written by JAMES TYNION IV • Art and cover by JIM LEE and SCOTT WILLIAMS
“THE END OF FOREVER” part one! There is a secret history to the DC Universe of heroes who have protected humanity from the shadows since the dawn of time…and who can live forever. Enter the Immortal Men! The team, headed by the Immortal Man, has waged a secret war against the House of Conquest for countless years—but Conquest has dealt a devastating blow. When their base of operations, known as the Campus, is savagely attacked, the Immortal Men must seek out their last hope—an emerging metahuman known as Caden Park! Caden’s emerging powers may be able to ensure the Immortal Men’s survival—but will Conquest get to him first?
On sale DECEMBER 6 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • FOLDOUT COVER • RATED T+

As with the above Damage, this one looks like it's going to be a very, very heavy lift to get over in the current market. A title about DC's many, many immortals, who play a sort of collective role in Dark Nights: Metal, could be compelling, particularly if it spans history, real and DCU, but there's a lot of x-factors here.

The fact that Jim Lee is drawing should help a lot--and I think that's the best way to deploy Lee, honestly, putting him on title that need the help--but if Immortal Men follows the trend that the "Rebirth" relaunch of Suicide Squad did, Lee won't be on the title for too long, and sales will react accordingly.

Art and cover by PETE WOODS
Variant cover by NICK BRADSHAW
“LOST” part one! When the Justice League is confronted by three concurrent threats, a sleep-deprived Batman makes a crucial error that causes an unthinkable—and potentially unforgivable—tragedy. Legendary Eisner Award-nominated writer Christopher Priest (Deathstroke) is joined by artist Pete Woods for a brand-new must-read Justice League story like you’ve never seen before!
On sale DECEMBER 6 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

Art and cover by PETE WOODS
Variant cover by NICK BRADSHAW
“LOST” part two! Still greatly affected by the shocking events of the previous issue, the Justice League attempts to regain its balance when an alien infestation threatens the Earth. But nothing can prepare them for an attack closer to home…one that will reveal devastating truths about the League itself!
On sale DECEMBER 20 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

Fun fact: Way back in 1999, Christopher Priest wrote a two-part story arc in Legends of The DC Universe starring the Justice League of America, and it was one of my favorite non-Morrison, non-Waid League stories from back then. It was sharp, creative, fun and funny, and I remember thinking--hell, maybe even writing a letter to the editor back then--that Christoper Priest should really do more Justice League stories.

Well, it's about time...!

I'm not sure if this is going to end up being a fill-in or if Priest is the new writer for the book, but I'll be buying this arc either way (Here's another fun fact: I haven't bought an issue of Justice League since...I forget, actually. Johns' second arc, maybe...?). Priest is, on a technical level, one of the publisher's better writers at the moment. Shouldn't someone as good as him be writing the book that, by all rights, should be their flagship title, seeing as it stars like six of their biggest, most popular, most recognizable heroes...?

I still think Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo should take over Justice League following Metal, but I'll gladly settle (or should I say "settle"...?) for Priest and anyone-who-is-not-a-poor-artist. Woods is good. But do you know who is even better? Nick Bradshaw. Why the fuck is DC wasting Bradshaw on variant covers--as they have been for a while now--instead of interiors?!

Another great, crazy-looking Guillem March cover, this one for Ragman, who still just looks like a mummy on the covers, which is kind of a waste of an incredible character design.

In 1984, legendary writer/artist Jack Kirby returned to DC to illustrate tales of the Justice League of America in the pages of SUPER POWERS. At last, DC collects the first two SUPER POWERS miniseries in a single collection! These tales pit the Justice League of America—Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman and more—against the forces of Darkseid, Lord of Apokolips. These stories are the only time in his long career that Kirby would draw the Justice League, elevating these stories to legendary status.
Collects SUPER POWERS Vol. 1 #1-5 and SUPER POWERS Vol. 2 #1-6.
On sale JANUARY 17 • 272 pg, FC, $39.99 US • ISBN: 978-1-4012-7140-4

This trade is pretty much a literal dream come true for me. I mean, in 2007 I wrote a post about how a collection of Kirby's Super Powers comics would essentially be a dream trade. It took DC a decade to get around to it--Good God in heaven, I have been blogging here for ten years now? And I still haven't gotten around to buying my own domain name?--but better late than never!

Hey, speaking of Super Powers, does anyone know what became of Tom Scioli's Super Powers back-ups in Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye...?

In the aftermath of the “Death of Superman” and the return of the Man of Steel, the new Superboy moves to Hawaii! But as his powers develop, the young clone of Superman must learn to be a hero as he battles villains including Sidearm and Knockout, and faces the effects of the dread clone plague!
Collects issues #0-11.
On sale JANUARY 3 • 296 pg, FC, $24.99 US • ISBN: 978-1-4012-7513-6

Geoff Johns has a fairly well-deserved reputation for rehabilitating Silver Age and Bronze Age DC superheroes who lost their way--Green Lantern Hal Jordan, Hawkman, Flash Barry Allen, all the characters that weaved in and out of his run on JSA--but one character he did no favors for was poor Superboy. The character's book changed direction a lot over the years, and by the time Johns became the character's main writer in the pages of Teen Titans, he started doing some darker, dumber things with the character, slowly draining all of the joy out of him until the cocky, smart-ass teen was a fairly dour downer.

I don't know what became of him after Flashpoint's reboot, as he mainly appeared in Teen Titans, the one New 52 book so bad that it actually hurt my eyes to look at, but with Superman and Lois Lane's son Jon using the Superboy name, I doubt we'll be seeing any iteration of this Superboy any time soon.

Unless we pick up this trade, which I likely will (as with Robin, my reading of Superboy was sporadic, and I basically read the issues that looked good to me, rather than reading it monthly).

Based on the solicitation, this is starting with the first issue of the post-"Reign of The Supermen" Superboy series, wherein Superboy picks maybe the nicest place in the United States of America to set up shop as resident superhero: Hawaii. He'll fight Knockout, The Scavenger, (the original and best conception of) King Shark, Parasite, Sidearm, the original Superboy (in the Zero Hour tie-in) and since they are apparently including the Milestone Comics/Superman franchise crossover "World's Collide," he'll also meet Rocket and Static.

If it sells well enough that they keep going, the next volume will include Superboy's first meeting with Green Lantern Kyle Rayner, he and some of his villains temporarily joining Amanda Waller's then little-seen Suicide Squad, a team-up with mostly-forgotten "New Blood" Loose Cannon, and an appearance by the Legion of Super-Heroes.

Friday, September 22, 2017


September is drawing to a close, which means there are just three short months left in this year, which means a whole lot of people who write about comics are going to be writing and publishing their best-of-the-year lists before long. If you are one such person, I would like to offer you a piece of advice: Be sure to read Hamish Steele's Pantheon: The True Story of The Egyptian Deities before you begin compiling your list.

It is probably the best comic I've read so far this year. At the very least, it was the funniest, and also my favorite. It is exactly what it says it is in the sub-title, and it manages to read simultaneously straightforward and like something akin to a parody, with the characters themselves sometimes offering sarcastic exegesis in their dialogue to their own fairly fucked-up actions. And comics proves to be the ideal medium for stories that were famously told in hieroglyphics (Here's a review, in blurb form: "Hamish Steele's Pantheon is as good a comic as Gods of Egypt is a bad movie!").

Given that the only place currently paying me money to write about comics is School Library Journal's Good Comics For Kids blog, and Pantheon is most definitely not appropriate for kids, there's a very good chance I won't actually formally review it anywhere, because it is so good, and it will be, well, like work to try and write a decent review of it. So instead, I will just offer my endorsement: Hamish Steele's Pantheon is the best comic, and you should all read it.

I reviewed Abby Howard's Dinosaur Empire here. I was genuinely surprised by how great it was.

I reviewed Man-Thing by R.L. Stine here. I was genuinely surprised by how bad it was.

Namor tries to explain the diminishing returns of relaunches to a Marvel executive.
The other day Tom Spurgeon linked to this essay at Paste, explaining how the nebulous "Legacy" initiative wasn't going to fix whatever it is exactly that has gone wrong at Marvel Entertainment's comics division of late. I say "whatever," but the real answer seems pretty obvious to me: For years and years and years now Marvel has increasingly relied on marketing and publishing strategies that offered fairly enormous short-term gains, but risked long-term damage to the market and their own brand. It seems like the short-term of all those strategies is now over, Marvel has entered the point that used to be long-term, and now the chickens have come home to roost, it is time to pay the piper and other such similar such metaphors.

I think Marvel still regularly publishes a lot of great comics, and, in truth, I read pretty much as much of the line as I possibly can, excepting the corners of the Marvel Universe that bear little to no interest for me--The Inhumans, The X-Men, Captain Marvel Carol Danvers, Deadpool--and the series I do genuinely like, but often get lost trying to read. (Of course, I do read them in trades that I borrow from the library, so Marvel gets almost no money directly from me: I still buy the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl trades, and I bought the R.L. Stine's Man-Thing trade mentioned above, but for the most part, I spend hardly any money at all on Marvel Entertainment products anymore).

Anyway, while reading this latest of think pieces and explainers about what the heck is wrong with Marvel on a Wednesday, the day I generally re-visit Midtown Comics's website to look at the week's new releases, I was reminded of something I notice every time I do so. Because I don't buy Marvel in serial format, I always just scroll quickly through their section of the shipping list. And it always takes forever compared to the time it takes to scroll through the sections devoted Dark Horse, DC, Image and Dynamite. Sometimes it's even longer than the time it takes to scroll through the section devoted to "Independents," which is basically "Everything Else," including sizable publishers like Archie Comics and Boom Studios.

This week, I thought I'd count, just out of curiosity. For the week of September 20th, DC had 36 entries in their section, a full 17 of which were variants, so that's actually just 19 new comics DC published this week, in all its imprints and sub-lines. Marvel had 44 entries, of which 16 were variants, so that's 28 new comics that Marvel published, and their line isn't broken up to the degree DC's is--it's mostly just Marvel Universe stuff and Star Wars licensed comics. There were only 81 comics in the non-Big Five category, to give you a sense of how many comics DC and Marvel published this week.

I was actually surprised they were so close, as Marvel always feels like they dwarf everyone else so much more dramatically with their weekly releases. So I looked ahead to next week, September 27th. There I see DC had 44 listings, while Marvel had 62, and 35 of those are variant covers, a hell of a lot of which are for a Legacy #1, which seems to be the start of a crossover event series of some kind...? So in addition to the gimmick covers and the re-numbering, Marvel is also doing a series to go along with the more cosmetic aspects of the initiative, and they are promoting it with...let's see...17 covers.

Anyway, in short, Marvel seems to publish too many damn comics every week. I think they've gotten better, and corrected the more obvious problems, like publishing two Doctor Strange books instead of just one, or three Black Panther books instead of just one, and actually even reducing their Avengers line to just two books (In December's solicits, Avengers and Uncanny Avengers are the only Avengers books; and even if you count Champions, which is written by Avengers writer Mark Waid and was built as a spin-off of his All-New, All-Different Avengers line-up, that's still three...the lowest number of Avengers titles in a while).

There is still room to cut though, and I don't think it needs to be (or should be) the more out-there low-selling titles, which are obviously meant to appeal to niche audiences and to sell in trade paperback form in other markets.

For example, come December there will be eight ongoing X-Men books: X-Men: Blue, X-Men: Gold, Astonishing X-Men, All-New Wolverine, Old Man Logan, Iceman, Jean Grey and Weapon X. That's a lot of X-Men books, particularly at a time when the franchise isn't selling so hot. Were I Marvel, I would probably start by cutting two--Astonishing, probably, since three books starring X-Men teams seems pretty excessive in the best of times, and Old Man Logan--and then maybe go from there, with Weapon X next on the chopping block and then maybe another solo title.

The Spider-Man franchise is even more crazy. Sure, they canceled Silk and Spider-Woman, so there's now just one book starring a female version of Spider-Man instead of three books starring a female version of Spider-Man, but there's still eight books: Amazing Spider-Man, Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man, Spider-Man/Deadpool, Spider-Man (starring Miles Morales), Venom, Ben Reilly: The Scarlet Spider, Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows (set in an alternate reality) and Spider-Gwen (ditto, although she seems to cross over a lot with the "real" Marvel Universe). There is a lot of room to cut here, and if the majority of your Spider-books are selling super-low, and they are all serving the same audience anyway, why give the Peter Parker version two ongoings, plus one for his clone (I think?) and another for an alternate reality version of Parker?

I am far from an expert, but these are the first things I would suggest Marvel try: 1)Publishing fewer titles per franchise, 2) Quite relaunching with new #1 constantly and 3) Knock it off with all the variants.

As I said, they do seem to be starting to put some of this into practice already, although not always in the best ways possible (as I've complained frequently, the new "Legacy" numbering is basically the same as relaunching with a new #1, only more confusing). And if variant covers are a problem, and I think they probably are, well, they don't seem to be backing away from them, as the number of them on next week's shipping list attached to Legacy #1 attests...

This is just one of the three covers for this issue, naturally.
Marvel's Generations time-travel team-up one-shots aren't directly related at all to Marvel's upcoming Legacy series, but I keep forgetting that, because the names are so similar. The Ms. Marvel one is the first I've actually read. There are actually a few that they've published so far that I was at least somewhat interested in, but I was, of course, trade-waiting (I assume they will all end up in a big Generations collections, or in the trade collections of the most relevant titles or, hell, maybe even both). My friend Meredith purchased this one though, so I read her copy.

The weirdest thing was that there isn't even a the barest attempt to explain why Ms. Marvel Kamala Khan has traveled back in time from the year 2017 to the 1970s. She just does, and everything else having to do with it comes via narration, based on her own understanding of genre conventions. It reads an awful lot like a tie-in to an event series or, perhaps, like an annual from an old-school thematic crossover, but, as far as I can tell, there is no one-shot or book-ending miniseries explaining why a bunch of the modern marvel characters like Ironheart and The Totally Awesome Hulk and Thor Jane Foster are travelling back in time to meet the original heroes that they are legacy versions of (Also, what, no Moonboy and Moon Girl?). That seems really fucking weird to me. At one point, Kamala does mention a cube, so maybe I'm just missing the tie-in...maybe they all spin out of a scene of Secret Empire...?

The comic is written by regular Ms. Marvel writer G. Willow Wilson, and drawn by Paolo Villanelli ; there's a kind of cute effect where the scenes set in the past are colored so as to suggest time-faded, old school comics paper. It's pretty disappointing though, at least given the premise. Kamala randomly travels back in time to 1970s New York City, wherein her namesake Carol Danvers was running a women's magazine--called simply Woman Magazine--for J. Jonah Jameson. Meredith has repeatedly texted me pictures of panels from the Essential Ms. Marvel trade collected those original comics, and they are awesome. I would have loved nothing more than a teenage girl from the year 2017 being inserted into the angry conversations about women's lib that Jameson and Danvers were having and shutting Jameson up (and while it's not like sexism is over or anything today, not by a long shot, it is certainly the case that Kamala grew up in a world where she didn't have to have as many of the fights that Danvers and her generation did, because those fights were already fought and won and popular opinion shifted so far away from the 1970s Jameson position and towards that of 1970s Danvers).

Alas, it was not to be. Jameson's in it, but it's little more than a cameo, and he barely screams about ladies, being more concerned with Kamala--who he mistakes as a new intern--being late, than whether women should work or be stay at home moms and so on. In that respect, I don't know that there's anything in the entire issue that's as funny as some of the random panels in Essential Ms. Marvel (The best gag is Kamala's shock at how far $20 goes in the 1970s, but then, I just saw that gag a few weeks back when Jughead discovered how much food he could buy in the 1970s when he and The Archies traveled back in time to meet the Ramones).

The thing that really struck me about this issue though? Guys, it is is sent in the 1970s. I was born in 1977, and I turned 40 this year. Let's be really, really generous and say that Carol Danvers was as young as 20 in the the 1970s, and that "the 1970s" is 1979. That would make Carol Danvers 58-years-old in the present day, but, more likely somewhere in her early-to-mid-sixties. Based on the way most artists draw her, I don't think she's really meant to be that old.

No variants, but the cover is "foil-stamped" with shiny Nth Metal ink or whatever.
I also read Batman: The Red Death #1 this week. That's the one-shot Metal tie-in detailing the origins of one of the seven bad Batmen from the Dark Multiverse, specifically The Flash/Batman amalgam. It was by the/a regular Flash creative team of Joshua Williamson and Carmine Di Giandomenico.

I was honestly a little confused at the beginning, as it is said to be occurring on "Earth-52," which I at first mistook to be the central Earth of the current DC Multiverse, but it featured Batman and The Flash fighting. The action will later move to "Earth-0," at which point I remembered that the 52 Earths of the DC Multiverse are numbered from Earth-0 to Earth-51; Earth-52 must therefore be the first Earth of the Dark Multiverse, that on the back of Grant Morrison's map of the Multiverse. Weird that the numbering would continue though, rather than there being 52 "Dark Earths" or whatever...although if the idea of the Dark Multiverse is that it is full of Earths that are always being destroyed, maybe there shouldn't be numbers there at all...?

As for The Batman vs. The Flash fight, the former was using the weapons of The Rogues, and wearing Captain Cold's glasses, for some reason. The idea is kinda cool, but also ridiculous; there's no way a Batman/Flash fight lasts longer than a few seconds, unless Batman has done some serious prep work, and having a freeze ray, weather-controlling staff and the ability to jump in and out of mirrors doesn't really cut it.

The Red Death's origin is pretty straightforward: Batman chained The Flash to the roof of a Batmobile and then drove into the The Speed Force, until he amalgamated himself with The Flash.

The story did not answer one question I have about The Red Death: Why is it that when he runs, he turns into a flock of glowing red bats? I mean, it looks cool as hell, but I'm not really sure why or how laser bats are the equivalent of lightning bolts when he uses super-speed.

Oh, and I suppose it is worth mentioning--if only because I personally find DC's obsession with the work Alan Moore did for them in the 1980s so fascinating--that there's a pretty direct and dramatic call-back to The Killing Joke in the script, as The Batman Who Laughs quotes from it.

There were three different covers for this issue too, one of which was blank. Seriously.
I also also read this, the first issue of a six-issue crossover being written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Aaron Lopresti and inked by Matt Ryan. This isn't that particular creative team's first crack at Wonder Woman, either; Simone had a 30-ish issue run on the Wonder Woman book between and 2007-2010, with the Lopresti and Ryan team  providing art for much of it (This fell between Allan Heinberg's aborted run and J. Michael Straczynski's aborted run, if you're trying to remember exactly where to place it).

I wasn't a particularly big fan of Simone and company's Wonder Woman, and I only lasted about an arc and a half or so, with occasional check-ins for interesting-looking issues (the return of Etta Candy, a Black Canary team-up, etc). That said, this miniseries by that particular old Wonder Woman team is remarkably well-timed. 

With the regular Wonder Woman title about to be temporarily turned over to writer James Robinson for a story that fans seem to have rejected upon hearing its synopsis--it's a follow-up to "The Darkseid War" and will feature Wonder Woman's brother--I imagine there will be plenty of Wondy fans dropping the main title. This could provide a pretty good home for them until DC finally figures out what to do with Wonder Woman again.

How good a Wonder Woman comic Wonder Woman/Conan actually ends up being will remain to be seen, of course. This first issue is really more of a Conan comic than a Wonder Woman one, and Diana's presence in his regular milieu isn't quite explained just yet. She's suffering from amnesia, apparently somewhat de-powered and missing her lasso and costume, although she's refashioned a crude likeness of her costume out of mud and rags.

Simone's take on Wonder Woman always seemed to accentuate her warrior aspect over every other aspect, which I found kind of grating and boring, but I suppose that will prove perfectly appropriate in a Conan comic, which Simone nails the language and rhythms of. Lopresti's art looks pretty great, but I can't help but wish one of the cover artists--Darrick Robinson and Liam Sharp--were drawing the interiors instead, or perhaps someone more completely over-the-top, like Kelley Jones or Simon Bisley.

At any rate, if you're a Wonder Woman reader distressed by the upcoming new direction of Wonder Woman, there's a pretty good chance that Wonder Woman/Conan will provide a solid substitute.

Speaking of not liking the sound of the upcoming Wonder Woman arc, I dropped the title from my pull while I was in the shop this week, and as long as I was dropping one book, I went ahead and dropped a second as well: Lumberjanes

My local comic shopkeep informed me that I was one of only two customers who had Lumberjanes on my pull, and now that I had dropped it, there was just one customer left. I didn't ask how many they were pulling at the high-point of Lumberjanes' popularity--I probably should have--but he did indicate that they had lost a lot over the years, and congratulated me for making it 42 issues. I outlasted everyone who patronizes my local comic shop, save one person!

Comic Shop Comics: September 20th

Batman #31 (DC Comics) In this issue, The Joker is in the middle of murdering someone in his secret headquarters, which the World's Greatest Detective has discovered the location of in his usual method: Kite Man told him where it was. Rather than acting to save the murder victim, Batman instead rallies with his new team of mass-murderers and terrorists--Mr. Zsasz, The Scarecrow, Two-Face, etc--and storms The Joker's headquarters via hang-gliders.

He finally makes a move to capture some of his many, many villains, taking out the majority of Team Riddler in one fell swoop, and the otherwise uneventful issue ends with The Joker, The Riddler and Batman all alone and in the same room.

As with most of the previous chapters of "The War of Jokes & Riddles," the issue is technically well-made, but the characterization is as off as any Batman story I've ever read without an "Elseworlds" logo stamped on the front.

As usual, the Tim Sale variant is so damn good it's a shame it's not the actual cover and, at this point, I'm long-past wishing I had just trade-waited Batman so I could get those Sale covers in the back of each volume:
The particular designs on Sale's cover don't quite match up with the interior art by Mikel Janin--Catwoman is wearing a version of her purple, Jim Balent costume in the interiors, and, of course, The Joker has stopped smiling--but it is otherwise a more accurate representation of the contents of the comic, as none of those characters depicted on the above cover even appear in the comic, save The Joker.

Nightwing #29 (DC) This is part two of the Dark Nights: Metal tie-in story, "Gotham Resistance." I guess part one came out last week, and was in an issue of Teen Titans, which I don't read. I kind of hate crossover stories of this nature, in which each chapter appears in a different book, as it generally means you either have to read all the books, or skip an issue you regularly read, or just try to muddle through (if I were just buying Nightwing off the rack, I likely would have just skipped the issue, but since it's on my pull-list I felt obligated to buy it).

To regular Nightwing writer Tim Seeley's credit, this issue was pretty easy to follow, with participating characters--the Teen Titans, The Suicide Squad, Green Arrow--all rather organically catching a reader up to what's brought them all together in Gotham City at this particular point. Essentially they are there to deal with the sorts of craziness that happens whenever there's this sort of world-threatening, cosmic order-altering crisis.

Apparently The Batman Who Laughs, the dark multiverse version of Batman who seems to be an amalgam of Batman and The Joker, recruits and empowers Mister Freeze, and so Nightwing, Robin, Killer Croc, Harley Quinn and Green Arrow battle their way through ice giants and wintery weather in order to beat Freeze to a cache of Nth metal weapons. This allows everyone to armor up and dress slightly differently; Nightwing's costume on the cover though is apparently a special cold-weather outfit he stopped at the Batcave to suit up in.

There are some plot points here that refer to the goings-on of Metal and previous Nightwing and Batman arcs, but for the most part it's just a bunch of characters wandering through a radically altered Gotham City, fighting and exchanging dialogue. So the muddling through works just fine.

Seeley is joined by guest penciler Paul Pelletier and inker Andrew Hennessy. Pelletier is and always has been a hell of a superhero artist, and this looks great, which no doubt goes a rather long way in helping make sense of it having skipped the first chapter. It is, after all, more difficult to get frustrated with a good-looking comic than it is a bad-looking comic.

Snotgirl #7 (Image Comics) The latest issue of Leslie Hung and Bryan Lee O'Malley's weird soap opera involving millennial fashion bloggers seemed like a particularly full one, featuring 26-pages of story and zero ads, not even one for the first Snotgirl collection, which you should totally buy and read (I'm actually kinda curious how it reads in trade, but it's one of those things I'll never really know, because even if I did read it in trade, I would have already read it serially, and so really I would be re-reading it in trade rather than reading it in trade.

Lottie tries to integrate Cool Girl into her circle of friends (or should that be "friends"...?), The Hater's Club, and they're off to a very, very rocky start. Meanwhile, the mysterious incident from the very first issue may not be in the past after all, as several other characters are circling around it. And, of course, there's another possible kinda sorta crime, or at least something that looks awfully crime-like, that Lottie may or may not be attached to. Fun stuff, for the seventh issue in a row now.

Superman #31 (DC) Fun fact: Superman isn't on my current pull-list because I want to to read 20-pages of Superman comics at $2.99 a pop every two weeks. I mean if "Superman comics, any Superman comics" were what I was interested in, well, there are hundreds and hundreds of issues of Superman comics I've never read before, many of which are created by masters of the form, and are available in more convenient formats than floppy comic books, and most of those I can get and read for free from my local library.

No, the reason Superman is on my current pull-list is I want to read Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason's Superman comics (with Gleason trading pencil duties off with Doug Mahnke and maybe an occasional fill-in artist).

This issue is the third in a row that is not by the "regular" creative team of Tomasi and Gleason, and the fourth out of the last six issues in which they did not participate.

 It was solicited as the start of an (admittedly kinda dumb-sounding) arc involving Lex Luthor and Apokolips, which sounds like a follow-up to Geoff Johns' last Justice League arc, "The Darkseid War" (Interestingly, Wonder Woman is also picking up on that pre-Rebirth, year+-old story arc this month too). Instead, it is the first chapter of a multi-part storyline in which Lois Lane pursues an interview with Deathstroke (and has apparently been in the drawer a bit, as it doesn't exactly line up with what's been going on in the pages of Deathstroke for a while now).

It follows a two-part Keith Champagne-written Superman vs. Sinestro storyline drawn by Mahnke and at least three other pencil artists (a storyline that was originally solicited to be by Tomasi, Gleason and Champagne, but didn't show up in shops that way), and that followed a two-parter by the regular writers and a guest artist (that weird American history story that was...well, weird), and  before that was another fill-in issue by another creative team entirely.

I guess I'm going to drop Superman; I can always catch up in trade later.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

On Harley Quinn 25th Anniversary Special #1

If you're struggling with the math--or, like me, marveling at how fast time seems to pass once you reach 40--it should perhaps be noted that DC Comics is celebrating the 25 years that have passed since Harley Quinn's first appearance on Batman: The Animated Series in 1992. She wouldn't actually debut in comics until 1993, in an issue of cartoon tie-in comic Batman Adventures, and she wouldn't join the DC Comics Universe proper until 1999's Batman: Harley Quinn special. Perhaps because of the character's non-standard path--originating in a cartoon adaptation of the comics, then gradually working her way into the comics--it's appropriate that the Harley Quinn 25th Anniversary Special tackles various versions of the character.

I'm actually a little surprised at how slim a package it is though, given the character's seemingly exponentially growing popularity. It's just a $4.99 floppy, with four short stories totaling 32 story pages and six pin-ups. In terms of size and number of high-profile contributors, it's not much bigger than any of the many Harley Quinn one-shots and special issues DC put out when it was clear that they had a hit on their hands with the post-Flashpoint, second volume of Harley Quinn (Because DC relaunched all their titles during their "Rebirth" initiative, however, we are now on our third volume of a Harley Quinn ongoing series, although the creators and direction have remained the seam between the second and the third).

Of those pin-ups, my favorite is definitely the one contributed by Babs Tarr, who draws her own hybrid Harley with her old Gotham City Sirens co-stars Catwoman and Poison Ivy.
Tarr's an amazing talent, and particularly good at drawing sexy ladies. The issue is almost worth five bucks for her pin-up alone. The others are by Annie Wu (whose image prominently features Harley's pet hyenas, engaged in helping her wreck a psychiatrist's office), Bengal, Dustin Nguyen and Greg Tocchini, Kamome Shirahama (Looking at these reminded me of the old Gallery one-shots that DC used to publish, but have long since abandoned; I imagine with the price of comics now being what it is, it would be harder to make those seem like they were worth whatever the publisher sold them for, but I used to really enjoy seeing so many different artists' takes on particular characters in 1992's The Batman Gallery, 1994's The Sandman: A Gallery of Dreams and A Death Gallery, 1997's JLA Gallery and so forth).

The first of the four stories is set firmly in current continuity, and is by the regular Harley Quinn writers Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti, with Conner also drawing it, something that happens far too infrequently (although, truth be told, the Harley Quinn monthly and its spin-offs have all generally had pretty good art, certainly better than that of your average DC Comic).

I had a hard time getting through this story, having skipped it the first time through the book and having to try two more times before I read it. As much as I like Conner's art, when it comes to Conmiotti's Harley comics, I am not a fan. This one has their character Red Tool--pronounce it "Deadpool," but with an "R" instead of a "D"--right there in the first panel, and when I see him my eyes roll so hard it makes reading comics somewhat difficult for a while afterwards. He is in a two-page framing sequence with Harley, between which is a "lost scene" from their 2015 Harley Quinn Road Trip Special co-starring Poison Ivy and Catwoman, probably most notable for all the great artists who contributed to it (like Moritat and the too-rarely-seen-at-DC-these-days Bret Blevins and Mike Manley).

Killing time before killing some dudes, Harley tells Deadpool Red Tool about how Vegas casino owner Yosemite Sam offered the three of them an ell-expenses paid stay in one of his hotels, and they got thrown out of it.

Harley's co-creator Paul Dini scripts the next story, "Birthday Blues," which seems to be set in The Animated Series continuity, or at least adjacent to it. Rather than being paired with Bruce Timm, the noticeably absent other creator of the character, Dini is working with regular Harley Quinn artist Chad Hardin. It's a pretty fun little story with the meta angle of Harley celebrating her 25th birthday, and how The Joker and Poison Ivy are involved in said celebration. There's a twist within a twist at the end, and as short as it is, those twists serve to pretty perfectly define all three characters and their relationships.

As great as it would have been to see Timm or someone who worked on Batman Adventures draw this, it was actually really interesting to see Hardin drawing the costumes from the TV cartoon, adapting the designs into his own style, which is very different than that of Timm (And, if you've spent as many hours of your life as I have on that show, it's fun picking out which designs from which season Hardin chooses, and to what extent; his Catwoman, for example, is wearing a costume that looks like a compromise between that of the first season and her more recent Darwyn Cooke-designed comic book cat suit. The Joker has the hairstyle and pointy-nose of TAS's redesigned Joker, but not the weird eyes; Killer Croc looks as he did on the cartoon, but with spikes. And so on.)

The most surprising stories are the two that follow. The first of these is by writer Daniel Kibblesmith and artist David Lafuente (a great artist who I really wish I could see more of, preferably on a regular, ongoing basis). Entitled "Harley Quinn & Friends In...Somewhere That's Green!", it is perhaps a little too timely in its reference to a deadly hurricane bearing down on the city (New York here, not Gotham).

Gal pals Harley and Ivy are in a grocery store to get supplies, when Swamp Thing grows out of the produce stand. He needs Ivy's help because of her connection to The Green, and Harley basically invites herself along. The Swamp Thing/Harley Quinn rapport was interesting enough that I kind of wish DC hadn't cancelled Harley's Little Black Book, as I wonder if it was fun watching those two interact because the short space here meant Kibblesmith could squeeze in all the potential good bits, or if the characters really could have the chemistry to carry a whole over-sized comic story.

If nothing else, Kibblesmith gets Swamp Thing in a raincoat and rain hat for a few panels; that's awesome.

As I mentioned, I really liked Lafuente's art, but it was especially good in this story, which had enough of a comedic tone that he could fill the backgrounds with loose, cartoony, caricature-like drawings, and go pretty wild with Swamp Thing. (Colorist John Rauch deserves some props here too, particuarly given his way with Harley's hair.

The final story was probably my favorite, and it came from the unlikely team of writer Chip Zdarsky and artist Joe Quinones, who are more Marvel guys than DC guys at this point (much to DC's detriment, if you ask me!). Entitled "Bird Psychology," this is the first story in the book to involve Batman, and, of course, Robin.

It's set somewhere...unclear-ish. Harley's look here is unique to this story, not lining up with that of TAS, The New 52, or the Margot Robie-in-Suicide Squad inspired "Rebirth" redesign. There's a Robin heavily involved, but the costume doesn't really give us any clues; it looks closer to Tim Drake's original than any other design, but then, the TAS Dick Grayson's suit looked a lot like Tim's comics costume, and the post-Flashpoint Dick also wore a more Tim-like costume...this one has some of the weird elements of Dick's New 52 Robin get-up but, like Harley's costume, is unique to this story (Based on the dialogue, in which Harley intuits that he's an orphan, it is probably meant to be Dick). The Joker and Batman both look like their TAS selves or their post-Crisis, pre-Flashpoint selves, but neither of them is too terribly easy placed in any particular milieu by their duds alone. All that said, the red skies, the black buildings and the particular designs and costuming of Commissioner Gordon, Harvey Bullock and Renee Montoya all definitely suggest that this is supposed to be a Quinones-ized TAS story.

This is, in broad strokes, a Batman and Robin vs. The Joker and Harley Quinn story, in which the superhero and his archvillain do battle, assigning their sidekick and moll to fight. The Joker underestimates Harley as per usual, and she ends up choosing to do good and play hero on the sly, because as crazy a bad girl as she might be, she's not, like, evil. Harley, and, to a lesser extent, Robin, are the focus of the story.

As well constructed as Zdarsky's plot is, it was the little elements that I really dug; he does a fine job of making The Joker seem like a completely insane criminal without having to, like, dwell on his homicidal tendencies. The story just cuts from The Joker at his work bench, plotting, to his plot already in progress, where Batman and Robin are fighting goons in adult pajamas, The Joker is wearing an old timey night shirt and night cap with sheep oven mitts on his hands, and there's a giant, angry Batman Tsum Tsum with a mouth full of striped missiles...? The creators do a pretty good job of nailing '90s Joker, particularly TAS-style Joker, where he could be menacing, scary and completely insane, without also having to be, like, Freddy Krueger or whatever.

Quinones is a fine artist, and this particular script allows him to pack in all sorts of great details; every available space of The Joker's hideout has an Easter Egg to some previous Joker story from some previous medium in it.

So while I didn't love all of this, the good in it definitely outweighed the bad, and it's certainly a reliable purchase for the casual Harley Quinn fan.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Some Batman-related trades I've recently read:

Batgirl: Stephanie Brown Vol.1

It's unclear if DC is going to continue collecting the 73-issue, 2000-2006 volume of Batgirl after the third collection of Batgirl: Cassandra Cain (which ended the run by the original creators, and would be a fairly natural stopping point). The release of Batgirl: Stephanie Brown Vol. 1 at this point would seem to argue against it, though.

This collection includes the first 12 issues of the 24-issue, 2009-20011 Batgirl series, the one starring former Spoiler, former Robin Stephanie Brown as the new, third Batgirl. So yeah, with this collection released, the entire series is already half-collected; smart money says DC will definitely get around to collecting all of the issues of this particular volume of Batgirl.

This was actually kind of a fun read for me, as I skipped them the first time around, so it was all new to me.

As to the why, well DC basically "broke" Batgirl in a series of poorly considered moves starting with the "One Year Later" arc of Robin, and subsequent attempts to fix the damage they did there in comics like Teen Titans and a Batgirl miniseries. That Batgirl, Cassandra Cain, had essentially become so narratively toxic that she barely appears in this series; the moment in which she hands over her costume and her codename to her friend Stephanie Brown consists of her basically just stripping off her costume and then peacing out, disappearing into the Gotham night (in her underwear, I guess).

I additionally kind of hated the new costume, a purple, black and gold affair that had an Utlimate Marvel-like quality of "realism" to it, looking like something that might appear in a live-action movie starring Batgirl, rather than a tolerable costume design (the even gave her a utility garter belt, to echo the one she had in earlier Spoiler costumes). Of course, on the other side of The New 52, wherein everybody had terrible new costumes, this one doesn't look so bad at all.

Finally, the book just kind of looked poorly-drawn. That's one of the detrimental factors that repelled me from the monthly, serially published that time has not healed. Just looking at the credit page of this collection, there are 15 credited artists. That is a lot of artists for a 12-issue series. Lee Garbett and Trevor Scott are the "regular" penciler and inker, respectively, but by my count Garbett pencils seven issues solo, with four other of the other issues involving him splitting pencilling duties with another artist. Scott inks just four issues solo, two others with another inker, one with two other inkers, and then others ink the rest. While the book looks mediocre at best for these first 12 issues, the constant fluctuations of style and ability that comes with so many artists trying to draw a single book over the course of just one year certainly don't help matters at all.

It's really a shame, because writer Bryan Q. Miller seems to be on fairly solid footing here, once old Batgirl Cassandra Cain is waved off the stage. Stephanie Brown is about to start her freshman year in college, and just about everything has changed for her and the rest of the Bat-family of late. Batman dying will do that.

It took me a bit to orient myself exactly, but at this point in Bat-history Bruce Wayne was temporarily dead, Tim Drake had taken the name Red Robin and left Gotham City, Dick Grayson had assumed the role of Batman and was fighting alongside the new Robin Damian Wayne, Alfred apparently left town to lead The Outsiders (???) and, as previously noted, Batgirl randomly decides to quit being Batgirl, handing Steph her costume with a series of short, cryptic declarative sentences: "I fought for him. But no more. Now, the fight is yours..."

So Steph continues to scratch her vigilante crime-fighting itch as the new Batgirl, until original Batgirl Barbara Gordon busts her. Like everyone else, Babs doesn't really think Stephanie has the chops for this, and wants her to stop immediately. That's one charming difference between this Batgirl and the previous ones. She's not a genius like Barbara, and she's not an invincible, natural-born fighting machine like Cassandra: She's basically just got a good heart, a lot of pluck and the experience that comes with years of trying to run with the bats, screwing up and falling short, but getting back up again. In Batman comics, Stephanie Brown is the epitome of dusting yourself off and trying again.

Miller gets that, accentuates it and makes it integral to her characterization and the premise of the series. Like Kelley Puckett and Scott Peterson did on the previous Batgirl series, he pairs Stephanie with Barbara Gordon as a mother/mentor figure, giving Babs co-star status, but Miller's series takes it a step further. While the previous Batgirl starred a teenage vigilante who was torn between to "parents" with different ideas about who she should be in Barbara Gordon and Batman, this series essentially posits Batgirl as a collaboration between Stephanie Brown and Barbara Gordon, who supplies her with a new suit, Batman-level tech and weapons and constant Oracle-ing.

Within a matter of issues, it's Barbara Gordon and Stephanie Brown against the world. Meanwhile, Babs takes a job teaching at Stephanie's school, she develops a crush on a cute classmate whose father is tied to organized crime, and new Gotham City police detective Nick Gage is posited as the center of a potential love triangle involving the ladies of Team Batgirl. Gradually, Wendy Harris is introduced to the book and becomes a greater and greater part of the cast, eventually becoming another protegee of Oracle's; Wendy, if you have forgotten, blocked it out of your mind or were lucky enough to never read it, was the DCU version of the Superfriends character, who was paralyzed by a monster version of Wonder Dog, who killed and ate her brother Marvin. It was a stupid, stupid time at DC Comics; this follows not only the events of that series, but I'm assuming something that must have happened in Birds of Prey too, as Barbara apparently has history with Wendy and The Calculator, Wendy and Marvin's father.

Because of the particular make-up of the Batman line at the time, we get to see Oracle and the new Batgirl working with (and/or against) the Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne version of the Dynamic Duo. Damian and Stephanie play off one another delightfully, as Damian is 1000-times more forceful in his condemnation of Steph than Tim or even Batman ever were, and it was actually kind of fun to see the restoration of the old Batgirl/Robin dynamic, where in Robin looked down on Batgirl and she resented the fact that he and Batman didn't accept her as a full partner. It's also fun to see Dick-as-Batman having disagreements about how to train and manage kids in capes with Barbara instead of Bruce-as-Batman, given Dick and Babs' long, occasionally romantic history, and, of course, the fact that they themselves used to be Robin and Batgirl.

Despite the relatively poor and rather inconsistent art (particularly when compared to that of the Batgirl: Cassandra Cain collections), I rather enjoyed this, and especially appreciated how these first 12 issues of the series all read like single graphic novel in one sitting. There are multiple story arcs within, but they read like chapters in one big story arc. It is also particularly effective as the culmination of Stephanie Brown's life story, whereas after years of trying to work as Robin's partner, or Batgirl's sidekick, or as Robin, or solo, she's finally found where she truly belongs.

So of course DC would cancel the book 12 issues later and reboot the whole universe, so that Stephanie Browns' years-long mega-story arc never actually happened, and we would eventually get a weird, bowdlerized version of the character that lacked the history, relationships and personality traits that made the pre-Flashpoint version of the character appealing in the first place.

DC Comics/Dark Horse Comics: Batman Vs. Predator

The official title is a bit of a mouthful, but this $35*, 370-page trade paperback is a pretty great collection, including all three Batman/Predator miniseries: 1991's Batman Vs. Predator, 1995's Batman Vs. Predator II: Bloodmatch and 1997's Batman Vs. Predator III: Blood Ties. As is so often the case with sequels, each consecutive miniseries was less good than the one that preceded it, but all three are head-and-shoulders above the comics featuring Batman's last two encounters with the Predator species of alien hunters, 2001's JLA Vs. Predator and 2007's Superman and Batman Vs. Alien and Predator.

I read the first of these in single issues as they were released, but this time was my first time re-reading that story in a very long time. Bloodmatch I only read for the first time rather recently and I am fairly certain this was the first time I read the third series (or, if I had read it before, I had somehow managed to completely forget ever having done so).

That first was written by Davie Gibbons and featured art by the Kubert brothers, with Andy penciling, Adam inking (and lettering) and Sherilyn Van Valkenburgh coloring. I recall it having been a rather big deal at the time, being one of the relatively early inter-company crossovers of its kind. I liked it a lot back then, and it holds up remarkably well.

Gibbons wrote what was basically a Batman story featuring a Predator alien, as the Dark Knight uses his detective skills, fighting prowess and technological achievement to solve a series of spectacularly brutal murders that are eventually attributed to a so-called "See Through Slasher."

The Predator, this one bearing the one from Predator II's massive arsenal of sci-fi weaponry, arrives in Gotham City, finds a hiding spot, and then proceeds to watch the news to look for the city's best fighters and all-around tough guys, starting with a pair of championship boxers, and then their gangster patrons, ultimately going after crime-fighters like Commissioner Gordon and, of course, the Batman himself. The final fight involved Batman suiting up in a special costume of the sort a Batman action figure line might include, and ultimately beating on his foe with a baseball bat.

It's very much the work of a writer-writer, rather than a fan writer, as Gibbons is pretty intent on telling a complete standalone story--albeit it one set within Batman continuity--instead of what one might expect from a more modern writer who grew up on such comics. Like, I'd certainly want to see Predator take on Batman's rogues gallery, although that would necessarily have to be an Elseworlds kinda comic. Gotham City is, after all, something of a game preserve stocked with the worst killers in the world.

I remembered really liking the Kubert's art back then--when this would have been among the first comics I had read--and I'm genuinely surprised at how well that holds up. There's a touch of the '90s about it, aesthetically, but it more closely resembles, say, Jim Lee inked by Joe Kubert than the art of either Kubert brother today, one of whom has since drawn a fairly healthy number of comics featuring Batman since his collaboration with Grant Morrison on "Batman and Son."

The coloring of their art is pretty stylized, with an almost Vertigo-esque palate. It looks more like a Dark Horse Predator comic of that era, rather than a Batman comic of that era, alternating between dim and dark, with the most colorful pages being somewhat washed out in their look. The brightest color in the whole comic is the red of the blood.

Bloodmatch was written by Doug Moench and featured pencil art by Paul Gulacy and inks by Terry Austin. In that one, a rogue Predator makes a surprise comeback to Gotham--the end of the first crossover implied that Batman had hoped by proving how dangerous he was to hunt, he would have scared future visits from more of that particular kind of alien--and The Huntress, who was at that point a very unwelcome presence in Gotham City, trying to fight crime there using more violent methods that Batman was willing to condone.

Moench's plot is a lot more busy than Gibbons', but it still works as both a Predator narrative and a Batman one, and Gulacy's art is always a treat. There's a real weirdness to his character designs and acting that I find enormously appealing.

Finally, there's Blood Ties. This one feels so much like a regular Batman comic that it actually could have run in the pages of Batman or Detective Comics. Maybe that has something to do with the presence of writer Chuck Dixon, who was writing like at least half of all Batman comics during any given month back then. Batman and Robin Tim Drake are dealing with Mister Freeze and his gang, when two visitors appear to join the hunt (There's a neat moment where Mister Freeze's lack of discernable body temperature renders him invisible to the Predators, who can only seen heat-signatures).

Batman tries to keep Robin completely out of the loop, as he thinks the Predators are far too dangerous for his teenage sidekick, but that ultimately proves impossible, as it turns out these two Predators are a father and son pair, and each has chosen one of the Dynamic Duo as their quarry. Batman sets a trap for them, in which he wears another special Preadtor-fighting costume--this one with a Robocop-like visor that echoes the one worn by the special alien-hunters in Bloodmatch, while Robin and Alfred face off against the younger one in the Batcave.

Among the innovations of Dixon's script, drawn by pencil artist Rodolfo Damaggio and inker Robert Campanella, is a fleshing out of something implied in the Predator II film, that these Predators have been visiting Earth for a very, very long time, and we see flashback-like scenes where they encounter human foes in centuries past and acquire trophies for them (which suggests another DC Comics/Predator story, in which Predators visit various historical heroes like Jonah Hex and Enemy Ace and the Crimson Avenger and Sgt. Rock and The Sandman Wesley Dodds, although perhaps there aren't any such heroes with enough name recognition to justify ever publishing such a series. It would be more interesting than anything like Superman and Batman Versus Aliens and Predator, though!).

There are plenty of goodies beyond the comics themselves in here too. There's what appears to be a Dave Gibbons foreword to the original collection of the original series, and afterwords from co-editors Diana Schutz and Denny O'Neil. That last one is particularly interesting, as in it O'Neil admits he had next to nothing to do with the actual editing of the series, and his main contribution was deciding whether or not Predator and Batman belonged in the same comic, given their diverse milieus, and the justification he came up with (While there's an aura of the sci-fi about the Predator aliens, the way they are always presented, in film as well as in the comics, is so mysterious that they are essentially just strange, monstrous killers whose origins are secondary, and thus there's little difference between Batman fighting one of them and Batman fighting, say, a vampire or werewolf or suchlike).

That justification was even needed and considered shows how unusual the crossover was in 1991 and 1992, and how much more vigilantly Batman was policed for internal, aesthetic consistencies back then.

That's followed by what's called a "Pinup and Cover Gallery," although I could swear most of those pin-ups come from what Schutz refers to as the "fershlugginer trading cards." So in addition to covers by Christopher Warner, Arthur Suydam, Simon Bisley (artist for Batman Vs. Judge Dredd, another very early inter-company crossover), DaMaggio and Gibbons, there's a fairly fantastic gallery of images of Batman fighting Predator, many of them from artists who would go on to do some pretty damn notable Batman work in the future: Arthur Adams, John Byrne, Jackson Guice, John Higgins, Adam Hughes, Michael W. Kaluta, Sam Kieth, Joe Kubert, Mike Mignola (that's a re-colored version of his image that graces the cover of this collection), Steve Rude, Tim Sale, Walt Simonson (Damn, look at those Batman ears! We often talk about Batman ear-length, but Batman ear-width gets considerably less attention), Matt Wagner and Tom Yeats.

The Wagner image is a particular favorite, and one I quite clearly remember from first seeing it some 25 years ago. It featured Batman stalking through the sewers, a black blade in each hand, one of which is shaped like a bat, while what must be a 12-foot Predator looms behind him, the dripping water short-circuiting its light-bending camouflage technology, and its face hidden in shadow save for pupil-less red eyes and white teeth.

I'm in no hurry to read another, modern Batman/Predator comic, although I can think of at least two reasons why I'd love to see one. First, I'd like to see more of Matt Wagner's version of the Predator (and Wagner's a hell of a Batman writer as well, handling a memorable Legends of the Dark Knight arc entitled "Faces," a pretty great Batman crossover with his Grendel character and, more recently, a suite of "Year One" era miniseries) and, second, I haven't seen Kelley Jones draw a Predator yet.

So maybe if DC and Dark Horse hired Wagner to write and draw a Long Halloween/Dark Victory-style and -sized series, with Kelley Jones on covers, that would be pretty alright with me.

Robin Vol. 4: Turning Point

This latest collection of the early-nineties launched, Chuck Dixon-scripted Robin ongoing series contains eight issues of Robin, plus the lead stories from two issues of Showcase '94. The interesting thing about the collection, which isn't a very good read, is that every single issue in it is part of a crossover of one kind or another, and, with the exception of the Robin/Showcase '94 crossover, none of those crossover stories can be collected here in their entirety, given their size. They have been collected elsewhere, but after the first sixty pages or so, the rest of the book is devoted to the Robin chapters of "KnightQuest," "KnightsEnd," "Prodigal" (chapters 4, 8 and the conclusion) and Zero Hour (the tie-in as well as Robin #0, both of which I just recently re-read in the Batman: Zero Hour collection).

Given the apparent remit of the series of collections, there's no other way around this, really, but it makes for a particularly off-putting reading experience. I mean, I managed just fine, but then I read almost all of these comics once before, and I also read the missing chapters of stories like "KnightsEnd" and "Prodigal" and so on. Picking this up today and reading these stories for the first time might be difficult, although I guess most readers would be able to figure out what else they need to read to make sense of what's going on.

The one complete story in the volume is entitled "Benedictions," and it features pencil art by Phil Jimenez (who actually draws a fair amount of this collection) and inks from three different inkers, one per issue. A sequel of sorts to Dixon's third pre-monthly miniseries, Robin III: Cry of The Huntress (which had some downright goofy special covers), it re-teams Robin with the mafia-hunting black sheep of Gotham City vigilantes.

Like so many of Dixon's scripts, the basic plot was somewhat generic, and could have been used for just about any superhero character: An unlikely mob boss moves to seize control of organized crime in the city, and an even more unlikely deadly vigilante attempts to stop her, with Robin and Huntress caught in the middle. That said, I always dug--and still dig--the chemistry between Dixon's version of Tim Drake and The Huntress.

Whenever Batman and Huntress teamed up (like in Batman Vs. Predator II: Bloodmatch, above), there was a predictable, even tedious dynamic between the two, with the stern Batman lecturing her on her use of force, her lack of training and the fact that Gotham was his city and he was therefore boss of everyone wearing a cape in it (His objections to her brutality always felt a little off too, as it's not like she ever actually killed anyone, or hurt her criminal prey any worse than he did, you know? If you're arguing whether shooting someone in the leg with a crossbow bolt is crueler than beating them into unconsciousness with your bare hands or giving them concussions with pointy metal projectiles well, at that point it's getting pretty academic).

Robin, being a teenager, was more of an irritating little brother to her. Judging her and always rubbing in the fact that he had Batman's sanction and knew everything about her, while she knew next to nothing about the Dynamic Duo.

That's followed by the Tom Grummett-drawn conclusion to "KnightQuest," in which Jack Drake and Bruce Wayne both return to Gotham City and Bruce sees what Jean-Paul Valley has been up to in his absence. Then there are two issues of "KnightsEnd" tie-ins, in which Grummett and inker Ray Kryssing get to draw Nightwing, Lady Shiva and both Batmen. Then there are the two Zero Hour-related issues, also by Grumett, and three chapters of "Prodigal," two-and-a-half of which are penciled by Jimenez (the final issue is divided between a tense talk between Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson in the Batcave, as the former is ready to reclaim his mantle from the latter's stewardship, which is drawn by Jimenez, and Tim's battle against Steeljacket, penciled by a John Cleary).

It was nice to see such relatively early Jimenez art, which proved what a really great artist he was. His work is super-detailed, resulting in figures that were as close to photo-realistic as you were likely to get in those days (something achieved by hand, rather than with a computer), and his characters all had a George Perez-like range in their acting.

He draws a handful of great cityscapes that look like he must have labored over them forever, and I really liked the detail work he brought to the characters, the way his Tim looks like a 15-year-old kid, or his Azrael Batman's intricate costume looked realistic rather than the work of an overly fussy Jim Lee clone and, especially, the way he drew Dick Grayson Batman's  "shoulder spikes," so that they are a part of the costume, and not merely an artistic flourish.

That last issue is actually pretty great, because it contrasts the work of Jimenez with Cleary, whose work I am not familiar with, but draws here like a mix between a then-popular Todd MacFarlane/Rob Liefeld style artist and a Batman Adventures contributor, resulting in images that are ridiculously overblown but also kind of cartoony. (As I was writing this paragraph, I paused to send cellphone photos of his Renee Montoya to my friend Meredith, who likes Gotham Central's Montoya a lot; Cleary poses her in various crazy ways, my favorite panel probably being the one where she's posed at the bottom of a flight of stairs, her left foot on the floor, her right foot on the sixth step up. She looks like a giantess climbing the stairs sideways, like a crab.)

I also quite clearly remembered the end of the Grayson/Wayne conversation, which actually brought a tear to my eye.

The cliffhanger ending has Robin returning to the Batcave to find Dick back in his Nightwing costume, as Bruce Wayne was ready to go back to being Batman. Jimenez's final splash, shows Tim and Dick reacting to Batman's new costume, which is drawn so that all we can see is the whites of his eyes and the yellow of his bat-symbol and utility belt.

If you were reading back then, this was teasing the debut of his new all-black costume, which would be prominently featured on the covers for the next issues of Batman, Detective, Shadow of The Bat and Robin, including on embossed black covers.

I liked the Kelley Jones covers best. Here's the regular cover, which was awesome...
And here's the embossed one, which, um, obviously didn't photograph well, being all-black and all...

*Considerably less on Amazon, but you shouldn't buy comics from Amazon. You should totally support your local comic shop.