Thursday, December 07, 2017

Comic Shop Comics: December 6th

Archie #26 (Archie Comics) I can't tell you how glad I am that the sitcom-like complication of one character overhearing part of a conversation and jumping to a melodramatic conclusion has resolved within the space of an issue, as that is a trope I have little patience for. Better still, not only does writer Mark Waid abandon it after using it for a cliffhanger and one fairly dramatic encounter at the Pop's, but he uses it to allow for the next cliffhanging conflict. Veronica and Archie realize that the fact that the misunderstanding happened at all means there must be a grain of something to it in their hearts, and she forces him to choose between herself and Betty: "You need to decide right now which of us you truly love."

It's a pretty ironic moment, and rather telling in just how different the new Riverdale comics are compared to the old. The fact that Archie can never truly choose between Betty or Veronica, and that the pair continue to fight over him anyway, has been a fact of life in Archie Comics for about as long as there have been Archie Comics. Hell, I noticed that the cover of Betty and Veronica Friends Winter Annual #257, which Good Comics For Kids just previewed, makes a gag of that fact on the cover. (Do you guys check in with GC4K regularly-ish? I don't update this blog as daily-ish as I used to, but that's the other major source for Caleb-writing-about-comics these days).

Meanwhile, to make for a parallel cliffhanger, Dilton decides to let Betty know exactly how he feels about her, in a perhaps too forceful kind of way:
I can't go on this unsure. Buddy or boyfriend? Exactly what am I to you? Choose.
Jeez, Dilton. Like she doesn't have enough going on at the moment.

Audrey Mok is still drawing. While I think Derek Charm is still my favorite of all the artists to have drawn any of the new Riverdale comics, Mok is up there, and probably one of the better, if not the best, to have drawn the main Archie title.

Batman #36 (DC Comics) Hey, how about those new corner boxes on the DC's covers? I'm not too crazy about the lowest tier, where the symbols are--here, it's a bat-symbol, apparently to let readers know that Batman is a Batman comic--but I do like the overall design. I see the ones that are DCU comics are branded "DC Universe," while others--like Bombshells United, below--are "DC Comics." This reminds me a little of Grant Morrison's discussed plan for the post-52 Multiverse, where different books would be set on different Earths and noted as such on the covers, but that never actually came to be.

Inside the cover? This is a pretty good example of what is peculiar to writer Tom King's Batman run. It is a very well-written issue, but it is also probably a little too well-written, in that it is overly clever in such a way as to be irritating.

The plot is that Lois Lane wants Superman to call Batman to discuss his recent engagement to Catwoman, but Superman is reluctant to do so for a variety of unconvincing reasons. And besides, he and Lois are both pretty busy working different angles of a major crime. Meanwhile, Catwoman wants Batman to call Superman to discuss their recent engagment, but Batman is reluctant for the same variety of the same unconvincing reasons. And besides, he and Catwoman are both busy working to foil a major crime.

The book is structure to jump back and forth between scenes featuring each couple, and many pages are split right down the middle, with one tier focusing on the Gotham City power couple, the other on the Metropolis power couple.

Like I said, it's all pretty good, but King makes the scenes so parallel that he hammers his point that the World's Finest heroes are much more alike then either would admit, even to himself, with a big cartoon mallet. With blinking lights and strings of bells on it. (For what it's worth, I found King's take on their relationship very 1988 in some respects).

Despite some quibbles--Catwoman having figured out Superman's secret identity seems pretty pre-Flashpoint, especially considering the fact that Clark Kent and Superman co-existed for such a long time in the New 52-iverse--I do like where this is going, with Batman and Superman punching out their respective foes, and then Superman asking everyone if they want to get something to eat.

World's Finest double-date!

I was sorry to see Joelle Jones wasn't drawing this issue. Instead, Clay Mann pencils and inks, with Seth Mann also getting an inking credit. JOrdie Bellaire handles the colors. It is a very nice-looking comic. Mann's designs for the superheroes are pretty evocative of Jim Lee's, but he handles the non-superheroes just as well, if not better, and the inks and colors never over-power the pencil work. It's a very drawn looking book.

Bombshells United #7 (DC) Okay, see how instead of a bat-symbol, this one has a bombshell with a stylized "B" in the space below the number and price? Given that this is the only Bombshells book, that's...not really necessary, is it? It's just a little more space eaten up on the cover. Well, at least there's no dumb text obscuring the art, as there so often is on DC comics (Nightwing before, has the words "Death From Above!" on the cover for some reason).

With this issue, the action have moved to Spain. Writer Marguerite Bennett spends some time recapping Batwoman Kate Kane's history to date, with particular attention to her time fighting in the Spanish Civil War with Renee Montoya, and then setting up their conflict with Spain's new dictator, Black Adam (Not "Adam Negro"...?). Bennett introduces the Religion of Crime into the story, which actually made me groan a little, but that was more so because of the way writer Greg Rucka seemed completely unable to let the idea go during his years at DC. I suppose it makes sense, given the presence of both Batwoman and Montoya, who Rucka had previously involved in battles against the Religion of Crime, but still...

I really liked this version of Black Adam. While his costume is basically just a generic-ish military uniform with a lightning bolt pattern on it, he is gigantic, maybe twice as tall as Batwoman.

Richard Ortiz handles the art, and gets to draw pretty much every character from the previous Bombshells for at least a panel, thanks to all the flashbacks. It's good stuff, but then, this being Bombshells, who knows how long Ortiz will be around, and if he will even get to draw the entirety of this story arc.

A couple of quibbles:

--I was surprised to see Bruce Wayne portrayed as a little kid, as it would make him younger than not only the Bombsehlls-iverse versions of all his peers, male and female a like, but younger even than this universe's versions of his sidekicks, like Barbara Gordon and Tim Drake and Jason Todd and Harper Row and so on. Besides, there is a grown man version of a Bombshell Batman...at least, there was on a variant cover when DC did a round of Bombshells-themed variant covers

--Ortiz draws a full broke-back pose at one point--page three, panel two--which surprised me, given how solid the artwork is in general.

--I didn't like that Miriam Marvel was referred to as "Shazam" on the radio. I will probably never let go of the fact that "Shazam" has gone from magic word to magic word-and-character name. Perhaps it is a personal failing.

--The execution of the final scene was poor. Batwoman falls into a chasm, and Renee dives in after her as if she were divining into water, not seeking to catch her. Granted, I'm fairly certain there is going to be water or something soft at the bottom of the chasm, as it would be weird to kill them both off that way, but Renee wouldn't know that, and it reads as if she's just committing suicide for no reason at the end.

Classic Monsters of Pre-Code Horror Comics: Mummies (IDW Publishing) If this 128-page collection of horror comics from the 1950s were organized around just about any other major monster group, I likely wouldn't have thought twice about it but, well, there's just something special about mummies. As monsters go, they are iconic, but not ubiquitous in the way that, say, vampires or werewolves or zombies are. Their "also-ran" status is actually something that Steven Thompson talks a bit about in his long-ish prose introduction, which is essentially just a walk-through of mummies in modern pop culture, medium by medium. After a shorter introduction by editor Steve Banes, who makes some interesting comparisons between finding mummy comics in long boxes and opening the tombs of actual mummies, there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 short stories, and a handful of shorter-still one-page comics, all originally published between 1949 and 1954. The artists include Mike Sekowsky, Bob Powell and a bunch of other artists whose work I am unfamiliar with (Jay Disbrow, Hward Nostrand, Lin Streeter, Albert Tyler, etc).

While there are plenty of killings throughout, and most of the stories contain at least one shapely young woman, I was actually a little surprised at how tame and gentle the stories were. Having grown-up reading about how scandalous the post-super hero boom, pre-Code crime and horror comics were, I expected a collection of pre-code horror comics to be a lot more exploitative. It's actually kind of hard to imagine these stories frightening or shocking anyone, even in the early 1950s, save, perhaps, archaeologists and Egyptians.

The first story presented, a 1953, Harry Lazarus-drawn story simply entitled "The Mummy," is about a rogue scientist who uses forbidden knowledge to raise a huge, hulking mummy with surprisingly dainty hands to strangle all of his one-time academic rivals. That's a basic pattern that is followed by pretty much all of the stories. Mummies are either brought to life by modern men using sorcery or science or both, or they come to life on their own to kill modern men for messing with their tombs. Occasionally there are some different takes, like cursed objects, but, for the most part, it's mummies running amok for a handful of pages.

Oddly, one story--a 1952 Powell-drawn tale called "The Unburied Mummy"--is repeated beat for beat in a 1954, John Belfi-drawn story called "The Mummy's Curse." Odder than the fact that the later story is pretty clearly a re-telling of the earlier one with a few small changes, like the gender of the killer mummy, is that both get collected in the same book.

As fun as the collection is, I think I might have preferred one that gave a little more historical context to the stories in the form of a paragraph or two, as opposed to the simple notation of the date, artist and the name of the comic they originally appeared in.

Mummies is not a bad way to spend an evening by any means, but, at the same time, it's hardly a must-read.

Nightwing #34 (DC) This is the end of Tim Seeley's run on Nightwing, and he seems to do a pretty fine job of having moved the character forward from where he was at the beginning of the run, and establishing a new status quo--new city, new allies--while also pulling back from the more dramatic changes and moving the major villains he introduced off of the board. There's also a secret or two revealed about Dick Grayson's past or, more precisely, that of his mother. Overall, despite some ups and downs, this was a very solid run on the character and the book, one that was extremely well plotted and restored him to a new version of his most successful status quo (that of Bludhaven's answer to Batman during Chuck Dixon's long run as writer of the Nightwing series).

Sam Humphries takes over next issue. Fingers crossed; this has been the longest I have read Nightwing on a monthly basis, I think.

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