Friday, October 27, 2017

Comics Shop Comics: October 25th

DC House of Horror #1 (DC) This holiday one-shot features eight 10-page stories, which, if you do the math, you'll realize means it would in years past have been one of DC's "80-Page Giants." Because comics are so dang expensive now, though, it's of a size that is pretty impractical, to the extent that I'm not entirely sure why DC or Marvel even bother with it.

This is in the publisher's rather weird hybrid trade/floppy format, bearing a spine but also having a couple of ads...although just two, a house ad of sorts about the upcoming Justice League movie and then a back cover ad for a video game. Given the $9.99 price point and the incredibly short shelf-life in the direct market--this is a Halloween special, meaning it will no longer be as relevant next Wednesday--I have to wonder if the publisher wouldn't be better off adding another 50 pages or so and just doing an original graphic novel of horror shorts. I don't know how well such a thing would sell in the bookstore market, although they could certainly figure out how to sell it to the book store market with a few marketable names attached (I think a 20-page story written by Scott Snyder or Neil Gaiman woulda done it, for example), but at least it would have a longer shelf-life than the one week or so it will get in direct market comic shops.

Each of the eight shorts has been plotted by Keith Giffen, and, for the most part, they are horror twists on the publisher's more popular characters. In most cases, that's all they are, really. The Superman story imagines a super-powered alien super-toddler crash-landing on the Kent farm and terrorizing and ultimately brutally killing Martha Kent, for example. The Batman story imagines a completely insane Bruce Wayne who has two divergent, warring personalities, one of them Batman, the other The Joker (He's neither superhero nor villain, though, just a crazy murderer whose career as either character was an elaborate series of years-long hallucinations). The Wonder Woman story features a young woman who is possessed by the spirit of the Amazing Amazon, which leads her to violently kill anyone around her, especially men...although she starts with her girlfriends.

Harley Quinn, Green Arrow, Captain Marvel Shazam, Two-Face and The Justice League are the other featured characters. The Harley and League stories are unusual in that they aren't straight-up reimaginings of the characters or concepts, but simply depart from the DCU somewhere. In the former, a workman who is tearing down Arkham Asylum meets the ghost of the late Harley Quinn, who possesses him and forces him to kill, while in the latter The Flash Barry Allen brings a zombie infection back up to the Justice League lunar watchtower with him, and Green Lantern Hal Jordan is the last survivor (the latter was one of my favorites, but is also kind of annoying in the way that it doesn't employ a "real" version of the League--they're on the moon, like the Morrison-era team was, but they are the New 52 versions of the characters, although Martian Manhunter is among their number and Cyborg is not. Also, I'm pretty sure the ring's automatic force field would protect Hal from a zombie bite, no matter how fast Barry can bite...)
Kolins; I asked Twitter, but no one responded. Is this supposed to be a joke at Tom Brevoort's expense? Because that is my best guess as to what the fuck J'onn and Hal are talking about. 
The solicitation for this special mentioned that it would feature work from "the most exciting new voices in contemporary horror fiction," which likely explains why I don't recognize any of the writers who provide the scripts for Giffen's plots. It might also explain why some of the stories seem awfully over-written, as, for the most part, there are far more words than necessary for an effective modern comics story (For example, Martha Kent's narration doesn't add anything to a story in which she's being chased around her farm house by an unstoppable, shadowy little alien monster). In that respect, it was probably a good idea to pair the relatively novice comics writers with an old hand as experienced with DC super-comics as Giffen is.

As usual for such projects, the art is a bit of a mixed bag, and for the most part it comes courtesy of talented folks whose work I like a lot and who aren't strangers to the publisher. Kyle Baker draws the Harley Quinn story, Rags Morales handles the Batman story, Bilquis Evely draws the Wonder Woman story, Dale Eaglesham (haven't seen him in a while, actually) draws the Green Arrow one (which is actually more of a Black Canary story), Scot Kolins draws the Justice League story (he's working with the unfortunate New 52 designs, but I still dig his renderings of them anyway; I really like his Batman eyes), Howard Porter draws the Superman story, and Howard Chaykin draws the weird Captain Marvel Shazam story (which is funny for exactly one panel, when we see Chaykin's version of angry punk Billy Batson). The only artist whose work I wasn't already super-familiar with was Tom Raney, who draws the Two-Face story.
There's something to like about each of them, I suppose, with only the Two-Face story really striking me as a dud. In it, District Attorney Harvey Dent is tracking a killer who cuts faces off of people, during a completely unrelated attack on the city by a giant insect-like monster that drives many people to seek refuge in a stadium (No idea why they went with giant monster instead of hurricane, but there you have it). In a twist that is awfully close to that of the Batman story, it turns out Dent is both the killer and the crime fighter! I would have thought cutting someone's face off would be a long, laborious task, but it takes him a second, maybe two or three to cut people's faces off. Who knew?

Anyway, it's not a bad comic, although I could find something to quibble about with each and every story, and it didn't really convince me that there's a point to this particular $10, 80-page giant-with-a-spine format, versus an original graphic novel.

Detective Comics #967 (DC) Just in case writer James Tynion's "A Lonely Place of Living" storyline wasn't built out of scraps from enough old, pre-New 52 story arcs, he adds another thread on the cliffhanger last page. The arc is named after the 1989 "A Lonely Place of Dying" story (from Batman and New Titans), which it gratuitously "sampled" visually and verbally in the first issue, then added the dark, future version of Tim Drake from 2005's "Titans Tomorrow" (from Teen Titans), and here Future Tim activates Greg Rucka's version of Brother Eye from 2005's The OMAC Project (itself a sort of reboot version of a 1970s Jack Kirby concept). I don't really know what to say about all this, beyond the obvious fact that the arc has become, like too many of DC's big crossover event stories or Geoff Johns' most reference-filled work on JSA or Teen Titans, a story about other stories. Unlike those, however, it isn't really synthesizing old stories into something new, it's just using them to buttress its pages, and committing a rather egregious sin for a superhero comic book story: It's boring.

Case in point: Batman Tim Drake faces off against Nightwing, The Red Hood, Robin and Titus, and the entire fight happens off-panel. Now, that is typical of modern American superhero comics, in which action and fighting generally happens mostly (if not completely) off-panel, but just because everyone else does it doesn't mean it is any less boring. If I'm reading a comic book, I don't want someone to tell me a Batman fought a Batman and every Robin ever, I kinda want to see it for myself.

Of note is a scene where the now "resurrected" Tim meets up with the team, and tells them that he always called the team "The Gotham Knights" in his head. That works--it was also the title of a pretty damn good, if relatively short-lived, Batman ongoing series, and would probably have been a better title for this book than Detective Comics (there isn't a whole lot of detecting in it, and, as mentioned above, it only really technically qualifies as comics story-telling sometimes), although since "Gotham Knights" has become the name for some of the city's fictional sports teams, I guess that would be weird to use it for a superhero team, too. Like if a team of New York City-based vigilantes started calling themselves the Mets, Yankees or Giants, you know?

Alvaro Martinez provides the pencil art, and and Raul Fernandez the inks. The book looks decent enough, even if Tomeu Morey and Jean Francois Beaulieu's colors tend toward the dark and drab. I did like what Martinize did to distinguish the book's two Batmen, Bruce Wayne and future Tim Drake, not just in the subtle differences of their costumes, but also in their builds and expressions.

Saga #48 (Image Comics) And now we check in with Ghus, Squire, Friendo and the two telepathic journalists, who I had actually completely forgotten about until I saw them again here, it's been so long. As regularly as Bryan K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples seem willing to kill off characters, their Saga cast remains a big, broad and deep one.

This issue concludes the current run, I believe, as the book prepares to go on another of it's regular hiatuses. To that end, the main cast reunites with these characters who they had left behind. While the various bits of drama are all spot-on as usual, the highlight is, as it so often is, the artwork and semi-crazy design work of Staples. Here that would be her rending of an invisible monster, whose "insides" can be seen by Squire's monitor "eyes." So what we, the readers, see are what look like a walking circulatory system studded with a variety of organs in the shape of a huge, humanoid. Great stuff, as always.

Scooby-Doo Team-Up #31 (DC) Once again, Sholly Fisch and Dario Brizuela team Scooby-Doo and the gang up with a classic DC superhero, and the book therefore provides its semi-regular function as the closest thing to a "showcase"-like anthology, introducing excellent, perfectly distilled, done-in-one comics stories featuring particularly pure versions of characters rarely seen, and rarely seen so close to their original conception (The Atom/s have been garbled beyond recognition since the New 52 reboot, for example, although one can easily argue that the character was being rather "ruined" as far back as Identity Crisis, and his usage in books published after that and before Flashpoint).

The Mystery Machine deposits Mystery Inc in Ivy Town, where The Atom gives them all versions of his own belt--Scooby wears his like a collar--and they shrink down to investigate a ghostly face that hides a sub-atomic planet within an atom. (Yes, there is naturally some discussion of ghost particles, this being a team-up between super-physicist The Atom and the ghost-breaking team).

It's a pretty excellent Atom comic, even if it's a just-okay Scooby-Doo one.

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