Thursday, September 07, 2017

Comic Shop Comics: September 6th

Batman #30 (DC Comics) Apparently the "War of Jokes and Riddles" interlude story, "The Ballad of Kite Man," is a multi-part one, and its individual chapters will not be appearing consecutively. Ironically though, this issue, which if part two of that story within a story, fits more-or-less with where writer Tom King's "War" story left off, with Batman having chosen a side to take in The Joker vs. Riddler gang war.

I have expressed my skepticism with each chapter, as the very premise of the "War" story arc has been unconvincing, and none of its subsequent chapters have done anything to sell me on it. In fact, the longer it goes on, the less acceptable it seems. I was unable to suspend my disbelief enough to take it seriously one chapter in; now that I've lost count of which chapter I'm on, my disbelief still isn't going away, just growing stronger and stronger.

Batman has decided the best way to put a stop to the war between the two villains is to pick a side and fight for that one side to defeat the other side, which doesn't seem like a very Batmanly way to approach the problem. For reasons not yet explained, Batman chooses The Riddler's side, and is thus working alongside child murderer The Riddler, serial killer/terrorist The Scarecrow, Two-Face and other murderous villains (there's a throwaway line in which Two-Face exposits that they've all promised not to kill anyone as long as Batman's working with them). The strange thing about this decision is that the arguments put forth by the two villains in the last issue seemed to make The Joker seem like the more acceptable ally (The Joker's goal was just to kill Batman, whereas The Riddler had grander designs that would involve non-Batman deaths).

This issue focuses on Kite Man, and consists mainly of a series of vignettes in which he teams with various allies--The Tweedles, The Ventriloquist, Man-Bat, Cluemaster, Mister Freeze, The Mad Hatter--and fights various enemies, like the aforementioned Scarecrow and Two-Face. The scenes are all well-written, and some of them are fun and/or funny, as it quickly becomes apparent that Kite-Man doesn't fit in with any of these psychopaths (The closest thing he has to a real conversation comes when he talks to Cluemaster and Mister Freeze, although both scenes end up with him in very bad places, thanks to their foes).

The weird thing is Batman takes Kite Man and his cohorts down repeatedly in this issue. The first time Batman punches him out, he just hangs him up and leaves rather than, like, letting the police arrest him. He attacks him at least three more times, and while it's possible Kite Man escaped the first two of those three times, the last time Batman takes him to...The Riddler? For interrogation? Not Gordon? Or the police? I...have no idea why Batman is doing the things he does.

This issue isn't Batman's story, of course, but Kite Man's, but even then the entire "War" narrative feels a little wrong and off, like an Elseworlds story taking place in the "real" DCU, where apparently all law and order has broken down and The Joker and Riddler control "armies." Kite Man literally refers to a "platoon" at one point. One of the several problems remains that as strong as particular scenes might be, King is still just writing scenes, with no connective tissue, so that most of the cast is behaving in ways that seem out of character, and their choices are never ever justified or explained, nor are their actions.

It's a well-written character study of Kite Man, but I can't make sense of the storyline it's embedded in.
Clay Mann pencils and Seth Mann inks, while non-interlude artist Mikel Janin provides the regular cover. It's a shame; that Tim Sale variant is much more striking (And I know I've said this before, but I'll say it again and again: I wish Sale was doing interior art. The Kite Man issues would be a pretty much perfect place for Sale's art to appear to, as it makes for a much more limited engagement than an entire story arc.)

Bombshells United #1 (DC) DC Comics has relaunched DC Comics Bombshells, the Marguerite Bennett-written series based loosely on Ant Luca's line of "Bombshells" statuettes that reimagined various super-characters as war-time style pin-up girls. Rather improbably, Bennett used the concept as a springboard to an alternate universe retelling of the second world war, in which reimagined versions of various DC heroines and villains figured prominently. That iteration was canceled, but it has been immediately replaced by a new iteration.

Ironically, the new series' is entitled Bombshells United, but the premise seems to be more focused individual story arcs starring a single member of the sprawling Bombshells. The initial arc stars Wonder Woman, and this first issue is drawn by Bennett's fellow Marguerite, Marguerite Sauvage, who drew some of the earlier (and best-looking) issues of the previous series (Bennett and Sauvage would be a pretty perfect team for the regular Wonder Woman series, by the way...just saying).

Attention has been turned to the home front, and Bennett is tackling one of the darker acts committed by a twentieth century American president on the American people: The internment of Japanese-Americans (That president isn't mentioned by name; oddly, in the Bombshells-iverse, it might not be President Franklin D. Roosevelt, but instead President Eleanor Roosevelt, who is mentioned in passing in a single line of dialogue in the previous volume....although it's often hard to tell when Bennett's characters are joking or being serious. It may have simply been a character's joke that she's the real power behind her husband's presidency).

Just as the government is rounding up Japanese-Americans on the West Coast, a team of girls on motorcycles hijacks the train and frees them, as part of a plan conceived by one of the would-be internees, Donna Troy. Meanwhile, Wonder Woman, whose aid Donna enlisted, provides a distraction, battling U.S. tanks and servicemen, one of whom turns out to be a supervillian in disguise (It's Clayface, drawn by Sauvage in his Batman: The Animated Series design).

Wonder Woman and these new Wonder Girls rescue everyone on the train, load them onto the backs of giant eagles, and fly them to the Pacific Northwest, where they build an Ewok village for them and meet another conspirator, Dawnstar. (I'm the opposite of an expert when it comes to the Legion of Super-Heroes, but she didn't seem too radically redesigned in order to fit the 1940s setting; other than wearing a pair of shorts, I couldn't even tell you how much this costume varies from ones she's worn in the past, though it is definitely more modest than a few I can remember seeing.)

The girls on the motorcycles turn out to be Cassandra Sandsmark (the second Wonder Girl of the post-Crisis, pre-Flashpoint continuity) and characters named Yuki and Yuri (who I assumed were new, original characters until I was about to post this and, flipping through the book one more time, I noticed that they were drawn with mirror image birthmarks. So I Googled "Yuki and Yuri" and "DC Comics," at which point I learned those are the secret identities of The Jawbreakers, a pair of motorcycle-riding bad guys that Batgirl Barbara Gordon fought in, like, two issues of the Babs Tarr/Cameron Stewart/Brenden Fletcher run on Batgirl) . It can sometimes be a little hard to parse Bennett's scripts, as she will generally choose cleverness over clarity when there's a potential for misreadings, but if I understood it correctly, all four are of Japanese descent (blond-haired, blue-eyed Cassandra being one-sixteenth Japanese). I was a little surprised by the choice. Not only did I not expect Bennet to choose Donna and Cassie as the Japanese-American heroines in her story, instead of, you know, a DC superhero of Japanese descent, but if she was intent on using the pre-existing Wonder Girls in this story, then why not is it necessary that, say, Cassie still have blonde hair, for example? The point made in the characters exchanges is that it doesn't matter, that none of the characters should be faced with such discrimination, and that this is an injustice that shouldn't be happening to anyone, but because Bennett is playing with pre-existing characters in such a manner, it does sort of force one to wonder why she's making the choices she is (I did go to Google and search for Tsunami of Roy Thomas' Young All-Stars to see if her name was Yuki or Yuri; it's not. That was the comic that most immediately sprung to mind when reading this, as it was the last DC comics I recall that dealt explicitly with this particular subject matter.)

Visually, this is the strongest issue starring the Bombshells characters in...well, maybe in forever? The problem with the previous iteration, which featured 30-page issues, was that each and every installment was drawn by more than one artist (and usually three). Almost every artist who contributed was good, but their styles didn't always match up well, and it gave the book a lurching, Frankenstein-like quality. So it was great to see 20 straight pages all drawn in the same style. That it's Sauvage's style is all the better. In a perfect world, it would look like this every month...or, at the very least, Sauvage would draw the entirety of this arc (If I recall the solicits correctly, however, she will be replaced at one point before it wraps up).

Sauvage is, as always, excellent, and she's particularly good with the clothes, fashions and other visual signifiers of this era. Her Donna Troy is particularly great, wearing normal, everyday period clothes that nevertheless evoke one of her longer-lived superhero costumes. I also really like the way she draws Wonder Woman's lasso, which here looks like a solid yellow crayon line, tiny bits of the art behind it visible through the tiny breaks in the line where the wax (or,more likely, its digital equivalent) doesn't adhere to the paper.

I'm far from tired of these characters, but I confess to being somewhat exhausted by the narrative of DC Comics Bombshells. So I'm glad of the change of focus and format. I suppose it's also worth noting that this seems to be a pretty good jumping-on point; if something's confusing in the issue, it will simply be because that's Bennett's style, not because you weren't reading the previous series.

Oh, and did you see Babs Tarr's variant for the first issue...?
Tarr is maybe an ideal artist for these characters and this series, and hopefully DC can convince her to do a whole arc at some point in the future, perhaps one starring Batwoman and/or The Batgirls, given Tarr's previous work for the publisher.

Man-Thing By R.L. Stine (Marvel Entertainment) I may be the only person who saw this book and thought, "Ooh, Man-Thing!" rather than "Ooh, R.L. Stine!" Too old to have been in the target demographic for the many, many Stine-penned books and/or their multi-media spin-offs, the only thing I know about him is that he hails from Ohio and is a really rather popular writer with the kids. But I do so love Marvel's muck monster. I didn't have a chance to read this yet. When I do, I'll review it elsewhere. I'm just including it here because it is a comic book that I bought at the shop today.

Nightwing #28 (DC) Javier Fernandez is joined by pencil artist Miguel Mendonca and inker Diana Egea in illustrating Tim Seeley's script this issue. This is the conclusion of the "Spyral" story arc, which revisits many elements from the Grayson series, the "ongoing" series that Dick Grayson starred in after the cancellation of the New 52 volume of Nightwing and the launch of the "Rebirth" volume of Nightwing. I wasn't a particular fan of that series, but I can appreciate the way Seeley incorporates its characters into a story that fits into his current, ongoing storyline involving Nightwing, The Runoffs and Bludhaven.

Superman #30 (DC) That...that's...that's not how that works. The red beams that come out of Superman's eyes are his heat vision; they are concentrated blasts of heat. Sinestro's power ring has a variety of fantastical powers and applications, but here it seems pretty clear that Sinestro is using it to blast his victim with an energy beam. I'm not a scientist, or even particularly adept at science, but I can't imagine how on Earth Superman's heat vision could be used to block an energy beam.

That panel is from the second half of a two-part fill-in arc drawn by artists Ed Benes, Tyler Kirkham and Philip Tan and written by Keith Champagne. It's the wrongest use of Superman's heat vision I've seen in a comic book since that scene in Countdown: Arena where a Superman grabbed two other Superman by their heat vision beams and tugged on them as if they were strings attached to their eyes.

It was a very dumb, completely nonsensical scene in a very dumb comic book that was written by...let's see...Keith Champagne! Again! Jesus; someone make him read some Who's Who or Wikipedia or something before his next Superman comic...

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