Saturday, December 23, 2017

Comic Shop Comics: December 20th

Batman #37 (DC Comics) This comic was probably worth my $2.99 for panel three on page three alone. That particular joke is a good one in that it seems so obvious once you've heard it that you can't believe no one has made it before. I suppose it is possible that someone has made it already--it's been over four years since Man of Steel was released, and there are a lot of smart-asses on Twitter, which means, statistically speaking, it is all but certain that someone has--but it was the first time I heard it.

As promised on the last page of the previous issue, and on the weird-looking cover in which the World's Finest are almost touching their gigantic chests against one another, this issue features a double-date involving Superman, Lois Lane, Batman and Catwoman. They go to "Super Hero Night" at the Gotham County Fair, where everyone is required--required!--to dress as asuperhero if they want to come in. Rather than threaten the kid dressed as Zan working the gate, or throwing a handful of hundred dollar bills at him, Bruce Wayne relents (I suppose Superman coulda flew them all in at super-speed, too). This seems...unrealistic, but it does lead to the World's Finest gaining entrance by wearing one another's costumes, with Clark Kent wearing his glasses over Batman's cowl, and Lois putting on Catwoman's costume. As for Catwoman, in Lois' dress, she just seduces her way in.

The rest of the issue, which is honestly the best issue of King's run, just features the four characters hanging out at the fair, doing more or less basic, generic things people do at fairs. Now because these are among four of the longer-lived and most thoroughly-defined characters in American pop culture, I suppose that King's job is a bit easier here than it would have been any other four comic book characters hanging out, but nevertheless he does a fine job of defining characters through comparing and contrasting, and he does so in this particular issue in a much more natural, organic way than he did in the previous one, which did the same thing, but in a much more artificially constructed way.

What is particularly notable here is that King refrains from the apparently mandated scene of action or violence, that is almost always shoehorned into every issue of a superhero comic, whether it belongs in the story being told or not. There is a crime committed here, and it is stopped by the violent action of our characters, but it is so short that it takes no more space than, say, the Tunnel of Love gag. At one point, a thief dressed as The Question steals Lois' clutch--which, it turns out, contains a flask--and runs for it. The ladies just laugh at him, given that he has just stolen a purse in front of the real Batman and Superman (The Man of Steel conks him out with a baseball).

I would highly recommend this issue. Even if you haven't read any recent Batman or Superman comics, including Batman #36 which set this one up to a degree, it doesn't really matter (actually, this might ironically work better without having read the previous issue first). It's a perfectly well-executed, done-in-one exploration of the relationship between Batman and Superman, with little character sketches of all four characters sprinkled throughout.

The art, by Clay Mann and color artist Jordie Bellaire, is as fine as anything he did in the previous issue, or at any previous point in his career, but is all the more impressive because he does next to nothing in terms of action poses here. It's all just drawings of people walking around, eating, talking, riding rides--Batman and Superman at the batting cages is as close as he comes to the traditional, dynamic action stages expected in superhero comics.

Bombshells United #8 (DC) Artist Mirka Andolfo joins writer Margeurite Bennett for this issue, set entirely in a magical-ish labyrinth underneath a church in Spain, which Batwoman and Renee Montoya must try to make their way out of. The mythology gets a bit garbled, but then, Bennett incorporates a passage where she compares an element to myths from around the world, so it certainly works. The pair meet an unexpected character from their previous adventures at the end, but a new--and unexpected--Bombshell gets added in the form of Talia al Ghul (more unexpected still is an appearance by The Heretic, a minor Batman character that you may have half-forgotten...provided you knew his/its name at all, from having read Grant Morrison's run on the character).

Dark Knights: Metal #4 (DC) The above sequence from this week's installment of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's is not only an awesome sequence, nor is it perhaps the most surprising guest-star--and remember, as the cover indicates, this issue features a rather substantial appearance by Daniel, The Sandman and Dream of The Endless. It also typifies Snyder's approach to DC's complicated continuity within the framework of story. Note Mr. Terrific's response to Starro, who, as far as I know, has never faced Starro in either the pre- or post-Flashpoint continuities. When the editor takes to an editorial box to ask about this, "Scott & Greg" reply with...a drawing of devil's horns. The sequence is set on Thanagar Prime, a planet that "cosmic scientist" Mr. Terrific tells Hal Jordan is "a phased presence, built on zombie star gas" and "exists at multiple coordinates at once." Sounds like the sort of place Hawkman would be from!

I like this Starro, in part, because he looks like "himself" while still being different from all the other Starros I've seen over the years. Here he is still a giant starfish with one eye, but he's not exactly kaiju sized, and he walks around on two of his arms like legs. There's also a certain juvenile swagger to him, which seems to fit a cosmic alien bully that first met the League in the 1960s. It was an all-around good reminder that he really should have been the villain of this summer's Justice League movie, rather than the Darkseid-lieutenant Steppenwolf.

In the Gardner Fox-established formula for Justice League stories, we are in the split-up-into-smaller-teams sequence. Terrific and Jordan have taken the Plastic Man egg to Thanagar Prime, Aquaman and Deathstroke are below the ocean's floor now, Wonder Woman, Dr. Fate and Kendra Saunders are at the Rock of Eternity and The Sandman is telling Superman and Batman a story, the story of where worlds come from, at least in the cosmology of this particular comic. It has an appropriate mythic feel, signaled by the inclusion of constellations of The Monitor, Anti-Monitor and other figures.

The title remains a good one, and it is still the best Justice League comic on the stands.

Hellboy: Krampusnacht (Dark Horse Comics) I remain as fascinated by The Krampus as I was when I first met him in Monte Beauchamp's 2010 Krampus: The Devil of Christmas, and all the sub-par movies and comics appearances have done nothing to dim my esteem for the weird figure of forgotten Christmases past. It is for the monster rather than the hero that I picked up this particular comic, then; I have liked all of Mike Mignola and company's "Mignola-verse" comics I've read over the years, but I have fallen so far behind in reading them in trade that I eventually just gave up, assuming I would catch up at some point in the future. That said, when I do occasionally check in with a one-shot like this one, it's clear that Mignola knows what he's doing, and he uses fairy tales and legends as fuel well-suited to his occult-punching hero's adventures. This is yet another comic where Hellboy basically comes across a scary story of some sort, Mignola and/or an artistic collaborator explain it and offer their own take on it, and then Hellboy fights it, beats it and calls it a day.

Here the monster is, of course, the Krampus. It's 1975, and Hellboy is in Austria, wandering through the snow while snatches of lyrics from "God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman"--the Christmas carol that mentions Satan--are juxtaposed with artist Adam Hughes' imagery. There, a ghost points Hellboy to the home of a wicked old man who is actually the Krampus. He claims to be a devil from hell, exiled on to Earth, and he wants Hellboy to kill him and send him back to hell, which Hellboy is only too happy to do.

After some great drawings of the Krampus, who starts out as goat man with an impossibly long tongue and, as his face is flayed off, takes on a more abstracted look, with an animal skull face, and a brutal fight in which Krampus commands Hellboy kills him while he pounds away on him, the Krampus is killed and...turns into a goat.

On the last pages, Hellboy and his professor mentor/friend discuss The Krampus and its origins, which in-story reflect a couple of real-world theories, and the potential solution is rephrased by Hellboy in a way that is amusingly dry but complicated, the ultimate "solution" merely being that it is dead, and should rest in peace.

This is a great done-in-one from two great talents, and a pretty great Krampus comic of which, as I've said, there are too few, despite all of the various attempts in the past decade or so (I liked the kinda sorta Krampus of Grant Morrison and Dan Morra's Klaus, too). My sole regret is that I didn't dig deep enough in the stack at the shop to find that there was also a Mignola-drawn cover for this comic.
Stupid variant covers.

Justice League #35 (DC) I was really looking forward to the start of writer Christopher Priest's run on Justice League, because I am a big fan of the League as a concept and a group of characters, and yet I have found writer Bryan Hitch's comics to be unreadably dull and boring (and I wasn't really a fan of Geoff Johns' run, which preceded that of Hitch...although some of that fault is that of the publisher's decision-makers, for deciding to reboot away all of the Justice League history and start over from scratch in 2011, as nothing of note seemed to have happen in the title for like six years now, and there is no longer any adventures that predate that period). And Christopher Priest, unlike Hitch, is an excellent writer of comic books.

Well, it turns out Priest's run actually started with the previous issue, presumably two weeks ago. I only noticed this one because I happened to glance down and see his name in the corner of the cover. I thought it might be starting in medias res until I got to the title page, and saw the "Part 2" there. Dammit!

So Priest is using the same format he did with Deathstroke, giving each scene a title of its own, as if each were its own short story that is part of a chapter that is part of a story arc. The opening one involves Wonder Woman being questioned about the League's role in a death; apparently a nun was stabbed to death with Wonder Woman's sword during a terrorist attack the team prevented. It's not the most dramatic or interesting angle to take on a Justice League story, but it seems like beyond Priest's examination of the way the hero team is perceived by some of those they fight on the behalf of, he may actually be more interested in exploring the emotional reactions of the characters to these pressures. Certainly the Dark Knight Detective has detected that Wonder Woman is kinda pissed at him.

Meanwhile, the bulk of the issue deals with a more traditional Justice League conflict. A space bounty-hunger from Priest's run on Justice League Task Force shows up at the satellite, asking for J'onn J'onnz--Psst! Wrong continuity, Glenn!--as he needs his assistance tracking down a super space cockroach that can hive-mind and breed with Earth cockroaches, making for an apocalyptic menace.

While the Trinity discuss the sub-plot on the Satellite, Glenn joins most of the rest of the League--which hasn't had a line-up change since Green Lantern Hal Jordan left and nominated GLs Jessica Cruz and Simon Baz to replace him--on the ground, fighting the space bug monster. Kid Flash Wally West helps out, and there is a lot of science and super powers involved in the fight and their victory over the villain, as there should be.

The issue is drawn by Pete Woods, a perfectly professional and skilled artist who one couldn't say anything bad about. Not only is this the best creative team to tell a Justice League story in the pages of Justice League in quite a while, it is also the first story in a Justice League comic I've found truly interesting since..."Throne of Atlantis," maybe...?

Now I just have to hope my shops still has a copy of Justice League #34 come Wednesday...

Nightwing #35 (DC) Hey, it's the first issue of the new creative team of writer Sam Humphries and artist Bernard Chang...! Although since this book is still on the bi-weekly publishing schedule*, I suppose Chang will be one of two artists, at the least. I was a little concerned about the change in creative team, as previous writer Tim Seeley had gradually, over years, gotten the Dick Grayson character back to a particularly comfortable place as a superhero starring in his own book. Sure, that meant taking him back to a place of a previous iterations, wherein he is once again the Batman of Bludhaven, but then, Seeley's Bludhaven is a lot different than Chuck Dixon's was, and his Nightwing proved rather different as well.

Humphries does not blow-up Seeley's work and start over here, although he does give Dick Grayson a new job, which I thought was pretty funny, just because Dick Grayson is one of those heroes who seems to get a new job every time he gets a new writer. He certainly doesn't have a vocation, the way Superman does. Here he has his own Crossfit-like gym/exercise program, operating out of the Grayson Cross Train Studio (the back of the building is his Nightwing-cave).

His first foe is a villain he has apparently faced and failed to capture a few times before, the first time as Robin. While we don't learn his whole deal or anything yet, he is apparently able to make other people do terrible, violent things somehow.

More importantly to some fans, this issue contains an image of Dick Grayson's bare ass, visible as he lowers himself into a bath of ice water. Just FYI.

Street Fighter Vs. Darkstalkers Vol. 1: Worlds of Warriors (Udon Entertainment) So I know next to nothing about the Street Fighter, although I suppose I must have played an arcade version of the game at some point in my youth (I was more familiar with Mortal Kombat and Tekken). On the other hand, I used to love the Darkstalker arcade games. The designs were all extremely appealing, and I liked the basic premise of classic horror movie archetypes dueling one another. Even their weird "moves" were appealing, as many of the characters had rather bizarre forms of attack, and could shape-change in strange ways--like the zombie's ability to turn his leg into a chainsaw when kicking, for example, or the crazy stuff the vampire/succubus could do with her wings.

I tried a Darkstalkers comic before, in the form of a Viz comic from back in the days when they were publishing serialized, comic book-comics in addition to digest trades (I read Dragon Ball and Neon Genesis Evangelion in that form for a while back then), and it...wasn't great.

I was intrigued by this when it started showing up in serial form, but I decided to wait for the trade. Unfortunately, the trade isn't the whole story. I'm not sure if it's an ongoing or...what, but the story really seems to just be getting started by the end of this 145-page trade.

The basic story seems pretty simple. In the Darkstalkers' home dimension, one of the games' boss villains has staged a coup, and enlisted the other succubus (from the second game) to visit Earth and send mighty warriors to their realm. These include a bunch of Street Fighter characters, who I assume are all of the characters I don't recognize from Darkstalkers (There's Chun-Li, and...after that, I got nothing, really. Ken? That's a guy, right?).

By the end of the first volume, Chun-Li, Sagat and Ken meet up with werewolf John Talbain and cat-woman Felicia in the Darkstalker realm, where they fight heavy metal zombie Lord Raptor. Meanwhile, other characters from both franchises meet one another in short preludes and "bonus round" stories, many of whom will eventually join the man story, one assumes, but we're not exactly there yet. Darkstalkers Victor, Morrigan, B.B. Hood, Lilith, Bigfoot, Rikuo, Donovan, Bishamon, Jedah and Hsien-Koh all put in appearance, and as for the Street Fighters, well, there's a lot of them in here too, I guess...?

Ken Siu-Chong is the writer, and Edwin Huang and Hanzo Steinbach are credited as the "lead artists", with many other artists making appearances throughout, the seven shorts being interspersed between the chapters of the main story, and these generally varying the most dramatically from the style of the main chapters. The most surprising chapter was "Oro's Weakness," a four-pager in which a Master Oro is visited by Lilith, who taunts him with images of various female Street Fighter characters in bikinis, all begging him to teach them. It was drawn by Corey Lewis. His presence here is cool as hell, but the downside was it really made me want to see a Corey Lewis Darkstalkers comic, and to hell with the rest of this noise.

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