Sunday, November 11, 2018

Review: Judas

Judas gets a bad rap. Sure, he betrayed and sold out his friend and spiritual leader Jesus to the authorities to be executed, but Jesus' crucifixion, death and resurrection are pretty central to the Christian faith. Judas' part was an integral one in Christianity's founding story and, considering Jesus' foreknowledge of the events to come and his father's omnipotence, it's not like they didn't know what Judas was up to, and maybe he didn't exactly have much in the way of a choice in the matter. And yet he's the jerk?

Arguments over predestination and free choice in the context of an all-powerful, all-knowing God have been Philosophy 101 business for centuries now, and when one revisits Bible stories with such arguments foregrounded, one will repeatedly run into logical paradoxes, irreconcilable facts that the faithful generally need to just accept as unknowable mysteries. Dwelling on them can make for compelling pop culture, though. The tension between the heroic and villainous nature of Judas' part in the Passion is at the center of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's Jesus Christ Superstar, which was just recently shepherded back into the American psyche earlier this year with a John Legend-starring live television production.

That version of Judas was presented as angry, disappointed and bewildered by his part in the story, unsure of what he was supposed to do and what Jesus wanted him to do, ultimately seeing himself as a victim of the story. The Judas of writer Jeff Loveness and artist Jakub Rebelka’s graphic novel Judas, which seems to owe at least some small debt to Superstar's sympathetic portrayal, also feels victimized: By Jesus, by God and by a voice in his head that turns out to be Lucifer/Satan. The real problem however, Lucifer tells him, is the story in which they are trapped, and the fact that "the story is broken."

It's a pithy way to frame and explain the paradoxes of the Bible's stories and the challenges of the Christian faith, from the Old Testament God's brutal punishments to the New Testament condemnation of those that killed Christ, to basic, ever-present questions about how and why an omnipotent God could abide all the suffering in a world he created and maintains. But "the story is broken" is also the seed of what turns out to be a hell of a graphic novel, as Loveness and Rebelka’s Judas isn’t merely a meditation on the broken story of Christianity, but a rewriting of a long-lived apocryphal chapter that fixes that broken story.

Originally published by Boom Studios as a four-issue miniseries, the collected version is presented as an original graphic novel, but it retains the serially-published comic book beats, with each of the first three issues ending with something of a cliffhanger, a big, unexpected event that is afforded a splash page to denote its importance. It is probably worth noting that while Loveness is a comedy writer, his previous comics work included superhero stuff for Marvel, and Judas uses the basic shape and feel of such comics, despite its genre being pure religious apocryphal extrapolation.
On the first pages, Judas half-prays beneath a tree and then hangs himself upon it (as in the Gospel of Matthew; Acts of the Apostles has him dying in a freak accident, so hey, right there is an example of a minor contradiction in the Bible, one of the hundreds one will find in it). As soon as he dies he immediately acquires a black halo and a necklace of the silver pieces he was paid for delivering Jesus, and the world melts away as he descends to Hell.
Hell is a concept that would have been completely unknown to the historical Judas and Jesus, despite the fact that Judas is depicted her as immediately recognizing it for what it is. Hell as we understand it was a very gradual assimilation of various cultures' ideas about death, but it's essentially a medieval construction that was grafted onto the Bible story retroactively (one of Western civilization's earliest retcons?). The Bible only has a few passing allusions to some place vaguely hell-like; first century Jews didn't have a hell. But then, that is part of Judas' remit, synthesizing scores of stories into a story of The Story.

Judas wanders until he meets a beautiful, paper-white man with paper-white hair, red pupils and a back full of black wings. He speaks to Judas in a Neil Gaiman’s Sandman-like font of white letters on black dialogue balloons, which had previously appeared in narration boxes. This is the voice Judas heard while he was alive, driving him towards doubt and betrayal, where Rebelka drew it as a sentient mist forcing its way into Judas' ears.

This is of course, the devil, although Judas only knows him as the voice. Later he is referred to as both Lucifer and Satan, and he talks about rebelling against God in Paradise, of preferring to rule in hell rather than serve in heaven, and of tempting Jesus in the desert and being the snake in the Garden of Eden. This then is our modern devil, again, retroactively incorporating all of the mentions of a Satanic figure in the Bible's stories as well as other, extra-biblical traditions.
The devil gives Judas a tour of this hell, introducing him to other Biblical villains who were similarly victimized by God because that part of "the story" needed a bad guy--the Pharaoh of Exodus being a particularly good example, as the Bible literally refers to God hardening the king’s heart and refusing to let the Israelites go, so that God could then unleash another sign of his power on Egypt. It is at the end of this second issue/chapter that the first of the book's big surprises comes. Just as Lucifer fell from Paradise, in the distance the pair see someone else falling down to them. It is Jesus himself. The idea here is that because Jesus took upon himself the sins of all humanity during his sacrifice, he was so thoroughly tainted by that sin that he didn't ascend to heaven upon his death, but instead fell directly to Hell.

While Jesus going to Hell after his death is presented as a shocking development, its actually an article of faith for Catholics and many other Christians, and it gets regularly recited in the Apostle’s Creed ("he descended to the dead"). That is, according to later tradition and theology, where Jesus was during the three days in which he was dead. He descended to Hell, bringing salvation to all of the righteous and/or pagan dead who went there by default after they had died, given that they couldn't be "saved" by Christ until there was a Christ.

These events are just barely alluded to in the later books of the Bible, just enough that they could be extrapolated over the centuries, but they were pretty damn popular in the middle ages, and Easter week dramatic productions of the so-called "Harrowing of Hell" were right up there with Passion plays. While fine art has addressed the subject, it is notably absent in pop culture (Which is a surprise, really; Jim Caviezel's Jesus descending to Hell to kick demon ass for two-and-a-half-hours seemed like the obvious sequel to Mel Gibson’s peculiarly violent Passion of The Christ; I kinda hated that movie, but I certainly would have bought a ticket for The Passion of The Christ II: The Harrowing of Hell, in which Jesus assembles an Expendables cast worth of Biblical patriarchs and leads them in a Lord of The Rings-style battle against Satan and CGI armies of demon-orcs).

As presented in Loveness' narrative, this isn't a triumphant conquering of hell, though. Jesus is pretty evidently on the ropes here: Completely human, weak and at the mercy of all of those who feel used and abused by him. The closest thing to an ally he's got is Judas, a man who just got done betraying him, and is now newly furious with him, having just learned that yes, Jesus knew all along what Judas was going to betray him and end up here in Hell as punishment.

Without giving away the particulars of the ending, Judas repeatedly confronts Jesus, and belatedly comes to the realization of why God might have punished Judas in this manner, and what power Judas might have in this place. Jesus does harrow hell and ascends back to Earth at the appointed time, being forgiven of the sins he was carrying by Judas himself. And Jesus does it without acting like a god or warrior, but just as he did in the first, canonical Passion--by passively suffering attack after attack without fighting back.

And what of Judas? He stays there in Hell, still wearing his black halo and necklace of silver pieces, where he essentially serves as the Jesus of Hell, ministering to those that suffer there, using what he learned from his time following Jesus while they both lived.

It's a genuinely powerful comic book in its approach to faith, its wrestling with the contradictions of Christianity and theology and its inspired resolution of them. It's also what I personally consider to be the best kind of comic book in that it is a story that could really only be told in this medium...or, at least, it could really only be told this effectively in this medium.

It's difficult to imagine the story working in prose, where paragraphs and paragraphs would have to be spent on description and context, or even in film, despite the latter's similarities with comics, where the reader would lose the ability to control the pace, the sounds and the connotations.

Judas works precisely because of how relatively sparse the verbiage, and how much of the story can be told through Rebelka’s art and Colin Bell’s lettering, which serve as imagery as much as illustration. Information isn’t always conveyed directly, but suggested.
There's a flat, painterly look to Rebelka's art. Judas and Jesus seem to have stepped right from religious paintings into the panels, and the scenes from Jesus 'life that appear within look like they could be more modern, more expressionistic versions of Biblical illustrations. Lucifer looks more like a modern comic book creation, as does his Hell, patrolled not only by characters who seem like they belong in the background of Conan comics, but also horror-genre monsters meant to stand in for the angels of Ezekiel, drawn as collections of jagged gray limbs covered in eyeballs and toothy mouths.

The Satan character speaks, as I mentioned, with a voice that reads opposite of the standard human voice, like that of Judas, white-on-black rather than black-on-white. When Jesus speaks, his dialogue appears in red lettering, just as the voice of God appears in red ink in some bibles, but, when he loses his godhood to become human before the harrowing, it fades from red to brown to black.

The particular usage to the basic building blocks of comic book construction--character design, lettering, etc--are used as particularly effective, almost subversive elements of deep storytelling. As I read and then re-read Judas, the one comic book it kept reminding me of was DC’s 1989-1996 Sandman, and not just because of the lettering. Rather, I think that may be because what Judas shares in common with Neil Gaiman and company’s series is that semi-subversive aspect of looking like one kind of comic while being something entirely different.

The Sandman quickly became a fantasy comic about mythology and literature, but it never entirely lost the trappings of a superhero comic book of the era, complete with an annual and specials, crossovers and team-ups and even a glow-in-the-dark novelty cover. It was comics as literature produced for the super-comics market. Judas, similarly, looks and feels like just another genre comic (albeit more of an ambitious modern Image comic than a superhero or horror comic), retaining the shape, rhythm and look of one, but it turns out to actually be a sophisticated twenty-first century passion play, presented on paper rather than on a stage.

While elements of it certainly remind me of many works, comics and otherwise, that I've read before, I've never read another comic book quite like Judas before.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

"Holy Terror, Batman!": Re-reading 1988's Detective Comics #590 30 years later

When comic book artist Norm Breyfogle passed away last month, his peers and fans began sharing images of some of their favorite covers he drew, and one of the most popular of those seemed to be his cover for 1988's Detective Comics #590*. It's a very moody image, filled with evocative imagery, and noteworthy for positioning the starring superhero in such a way that he has his back to the reader, as well as signaling the drama of the story by removing Batman from his generic American urban environment and placing him instead before a very recognizable, real-world monument in London. It's really not terribly surprising that the image was so popular among Breyfogle's admirers.

The contents of that issue, on the other hand, are quite surprising, maybe even shocking--even more so when read today than they might have been in 1988. The issue, by the British writing team of John Wagner and Alan Grant, was a 22-page superhero adventure comic in which the Dark Knight Detective battled neither street crime nor one of the many colorful super-villains of his expansive rogue's gallery. Rather, Batman fought state-sponsored radical Islamic terrorists, who struck in both DC Comics' faux New York City Gotham City and London.

It's somewhat unsettling to read it today, and realize that it was published 13 years before the September 11 attacks...and The Dark Knight Returns cartoonist Frank Miller's expressing his desire to create a Batman vs. Al Qaeda comic called Holy Terror, Batman. And it was d 23 years before Miller's ultimately Batman-less Holy Terror saw publication.

I wouldn't make too much of the predictive nature of the comic though, given that terrorists of all nationalities, religions and ideologies have so long been a staple of Hollywood action movies and superhero comics by that point, particularly in the 1980s, but it's worth remembering how weird and unbalanced Miller's reaction to terrorism was when reading this comic about Batman fighting terrorists. After all, this was just another issue of the two Batman monthly comics of the time, and yet it was well-written, well-drawn and offered a fairly nuanced view of terrorism as both a particularly wicked, evil act and desperate flailing from doomed parties facing an invincible enemy.

Playing the part of the unstoppable super-power fueled by righteous anger and tempered by a guilty conscious is, of course, Batman.

Wagner and Grant, who as Europeans living in the United Kingdom were much closer to real acts of terrorism than their North American peers in the industry, entitled their story--sigh--"An American Batman In London." Because...Batman is American, I guess. And, you know, that movie. It opens with some mildly and typically purple narration:
Gotham:

Night after night, the eternal war rages. A lone cloaked figure reigns against the hosts of evil.

Time after time he gains the victory, wins the battle--only to plunge back into the war with undiminished fervor.

But there are a million crimes-- and only one Batman...
This appears in narration boxes through a title page montage of Batman doing his normal thing: Busting a drug dealer, pursuing a getaway car, catching crooks who have just robbed a jewelry store. He's in an alley near the "Gotham 'Nam Vets' Club" beating up a trio of muggers when two men in long coats walk right by and enter the club. They pull out automatic weapons and strafe the interior of the club, shouting, "For the glory of the revolution! Allah Akbar! Allah Akbar!"
While the mention of "the revolution" might call to mind a particular country in the Middle East whose revolution was just about a decade old at the time, these men's nationality will be revealed shortly; regardless, the use of the Takbir as a battle cry unequivocally points to the shooters being radical Islamic terrorists.

Batman arrives too late to do anything but survey the damage, and on the next page he's joined by Police Commissioner James Gordon and FBI Agent Zak Hoffer. As they discuss what happened--seven dead and 13 wounded in the mass shooting, the perpetrators having committed suicide via cyanide capsule--Hoffer tells them he's 95-percent sure that the man behind the attack is Abu Hassan, "a fully accredited Syraqui diplomat," and there's nothing the U.S. government or the Batman can do to bring him to justice. A furious Batman points and screams in Hoffer's face, saying no one can commit murder in his city and get away with it by claiming diplomatic immunity.

A few things of interest here. First of all, we find out that the man behind the attack is "Syraqui," which I guess means he's from "Syraq," one of those fictional countries that occasionally appear in superhero universe comics so that the creators can use a nation state without naming a real one. Here, Grant and Wagner seem to have simply smooshed "Syria" and "Iraq" together. Similar fake countries in the region include Qurac and Khandaq.

The use of a fictional country here is in sharp contrast to the Jim Starlin-written "A Death in the Family" story arc from Detective's sister book, Batman. In the climax of that 1988 story--the final issue of which was cover-dated January 1989--The Joker was made Iran's ambassador the United Nations, and was able to fend off Batman's vengeful attack on him claiming diplomatic immunity (Actually, Batman still went after him, but Superman intervened at the United States government's behalf). Detective Comics #590 was cover-dated September 1988, so these two stories were likely being written almost at the same time, with the Wagner/Grant story seeing publication just before the Starlin one.

Learning that Abu Hassan was on his way to the Syraqui embassy in London when the attack had taken place, Batman decides that "Maybe it's time Bruce Wayne took a vacation!", stuffs his Batman costume in a duffel bag (sans utility belt) and flies to London...in a passenger plane, rather than taking a personal jet or Batplane.
It just so happens that the night he arrives is November 5th, and so the city is full of kids and firecrackers and bonfires and burning effigies celebrating/commemorating a 17th century attempt to blow up parliament. With explosives. (If you're curious about those other DC-published comics by British writers that feature Guy Fawkes Day, it looks like the first two-thirds or so of Alan Moore and David Lloyd's V For Vendetta would have been published in Warrior years prior to this issue of 'Tec being released, and the first issue of the DC-published version actually had the same cover-date as 'Tec #590. Grant and Breyfogle were fans of Moore and Lloyd's comic; their Anarky character was designed to resemble the hero from V For Vendetta.)

Batman sneaks into the Syraqui embassy, where we get more clues about the character of the nation. It's official name is "The People's Republic of Syraq." The embassy includes a flag that resembles a blend of flags of several from the Middle East, having the basic lay out of the flags of Jordan and Palestine, but with the three colors of the Iranian flag and a big yellow, five-pointed star that resembles the green ones on the Syrian flag added to it. We also see some statuettes that look vaguely Persian, a pair of crossed scimitars hanging on a wall and a poster of two fists holding a hammer and sickle, suggesting a Communist nation. "Syraq" then is basically designed to be an admixture of America's geo-political rivals and enemies in the late 1980s, although despite the vagaries of the nation, the script continually makes clear that the characters are all Muslim: "May Allah go with you, my friend," "By Allah!" and so on.

Once inside, Batman quickly beats up and ties up two armed guards and confronts Hassan, who is in the process of packing up to get on another plane. Hassan has just set another terrorist attack in motion, having planned a fifth of November that the English will remember "for the next four hundred years!"

Batman attacks as soon as Hassan pulls a gun on him, and it's a fairly one-sided fight, although Hassan puts some effort into it.
I like the bit where the Syraqui diplomat says to Batman, "I do not know who you are, American--" Really? He doesn't know who this man, dressed as a bat is...? It's not a terribly ambiguous costume. Batman's costume is so simple that it seems as if one who has never heard of him could pretty easily land on his name by chance, simply by describing him. Or, at the very least come pretty close, landing on, say "Bat Guy" or "Bat Dude" or "Mr. Bat Person."

After breaking Hassan's arm and knocking him around, Batman grabs the bloodied diplomat by the collar and lifts his other fist, demanding he explain his earlier talk of a "little parting gift." Hassan makes a speech:
You Americans--and your British kin--you think if you shout loudly enough, if you bully enough, you will always get your way!

It is time you learned the world does not dance to your tune! Have you never wondered why we hate you? Why poor and beleaguered peoples the world over count you as their enemy?

...

You exploit the weak--you rape their lands with your plastic technology--you corrupt their people with your almighty dollar! And then you dare to look so aggrieved--so innocent--when we strike back!
Hassan's charges here are vague ones, things that were and are undoubtedly true of The West, or the First World, or the developed nations--however one might want to refer to countries like the U.S. and U.K. They are all general enough that no particular politics or policies or religion or conflicts are named. The effect here is also that regardless of how despicable Hassan and his allies' methods might be, one can't argue with the substance of the above passages. The strong do exploit the week, our plastics and technology are bad for the environment, money does corrupt.

The dialogue is accompanied by four images of poor and starving-looking skeletal people, including a weary-looking baby covered in flies and a young black child holding an empty bowl.

Batman, who can't see the images we are being shown, isn't convinced, but Hassan starts to get to him with the next few lines.

"We fight with terror because it is the only weapon you have left us!" he says, before going on cast terrorism as a reaction to blowback for American foreign policy; Wagner and Grant are still talking in vagaries here, but they are getting more specific, as they move from the generalities of exploitation to specific categories of actions: "And your country--it does not murder? It does not bomb women and children? It has not for years propped up a dozen tyrants who brutalize and persecute their own people?"
Visually, this plays out across two pretty much perfect panels, as we see Batman's fury dissolve from his face and his fist unclench as he realizes that whatever else Hassan has done, he's not exactly lying when he says the United States doesn't always live up to its purported ideals in its foreign policy, perhaps especially in the Middle East of the 1980s (or 1950s, '60s, '70s, '90s, '00s and so on). As the angry white triangles of Batman's eyes change shape, the discussion is cut short. Hassan reveals that he has directed men to attack Parliament, and then another of his men attacks Batman form behind, slipping a garrote over his throat.

Batman is able to fight off his attacker, but in struggle, the man's flailing leg strikes Hassan, knocking him out the window, to be impaled on a spike atop the barbed-wire covered wall around the embassy. Batman, who famously spares his foes and has an almost pathological aversion to killing that can seem downright insane when applied to the many serial killers and terroristic arch-foes he regularly battles, isn't t all that broken up about seeing Hassan land on a spike with a "THUTCH". Batman merely makes a face, and narrates, "A murderer is dead--but my job isn't over..."

Quickly realizing that no one in authority is going to believe him when he says someone is going to blow up Parliament on Guy Fawkes Night, Batman steals a car and speeds there himself. Meanwhile, four men in Hassan's employ check their machine guns and fill a brief case with dynamite, and head for Parliament. They are just gunning down the guards when Batman careens into view. The Dark Knight decides he only has one play, and he steers his speeding car directly towards them, throwing himself out the door as it strikes them...
...and there is a terrific explosion.
They all die, of course--their plan was to die, as Batman narrates on the way--and they die because they are carrying a bunch of explosions, but one wonders about Batman's plan here, too. Throwing batarangs or punches at guys' heads all the time might kill some by accident in the real world, but if Batman called such methods non-lethal, he could probably convince you to accept that he can totally beat people unconscious without killing them. A speeding car though? That seems a lot harder to calibrate to a non-lethal ramming speed.

Check out that last panel. It looks rather familiar, doesn't it? Batman's wounds there are all fresh, but that image of Bruce Wayne stripping off his bat-shirt to reveal a wound-wracked back was later produced by Alex Ross in a painting for the 1996 Batman: Black and White miniseries.
On the last page, Batman tosses his costume into a nearby fire, where The Batman can burn in effigy (and evidence of his presence in London can be erased), and he doesn't seem that broken up by the five deaths he had a hand in.I'm not saying he necessarily should, but it's the sort of thing Batman tends to castigate himself over. He is, however, is haunted by Hassan's words when he basically told off Batman/The United States/The West.
Wagner, Grant and Breyfogle--and this issue--don't provide an answer. There's no Aesop-like moral here, no solution to a problem they raise. They just raise it. And they did it in a comic book that children could have bought for 75-cents off a rack in a grocery store or drug store, decades before Frank Miller wanted to use Batman to draw a revenge fantasy for the 9/11 attacks and a serious and sustained national conversation for how America should confront global terrorism systematically was begun. That seems strange in 2018, where this would have cost $4 and one would have to travel to a specialty shop to secure a paper copy. But then, so much about this comic seems strange in 2018.



*The issue has been collected in both in 2015's Legends of The Dark Knight: Norm Breyfogle Vol. 1 and the just recently-released Batman: Dark Knight Detective Vol. 2.

What is Batman whining about now...?

Serious question: Is Heroes In Crisis supposed to be canon, or is it being made into a continuity-light, Black Label series or something...? Because what is Batman even talking about? Because anyway you want to categorize his Robins who have died, none of them have died very long. He trained Jason Todd and Tim Drake and they both became like family to him. Jason Todd did, in fact, literally die--temporarily--and come back to life almost immediately afterwards. Tim Drake never really died, Batman just thought he died for a while, and then Tim escaped the prison he was hidden away in. Batman didn't exactly train Damian Wayne--first Talia al Ghul and the League of Assassins did, and then Dick Grayson trained him as Robin, and Damian never really "became" like family because he was literally family from birth. Batman did watch Damian die, of course, but, again, Damian came back to life almost immediately upon his death.

I honestly have no idea why Batman is even bringing this up. It seems like the sort of mistake a new writer might put into a story if they weren't, like, familiar with Batman comics of the last decade or two, but Heroes In Crisis is being written by the current writer of Batman, who has been writing the series for years now.

Don't get me wrong, I'm sure Batman has a lot of trauma in his life--the deaths of his parents, his inability to be in a relationship with a woman who isn't a super-villain or doesn't die immediately upon finding out his secret identity, having seen a few thousand corpses on a nearly nightly basis, all that stuff with time travel and the multiverse, simple head trauma from getting beat up all the time--but if he's going to spend time unmasking to talk about his problems with a special therapy robot, "one-fifth of my sidekicks have died and then got better" is a weird one to foreground.

Nice art, though!

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Marvel's January previews reviewed

AVENGERS #12
JASON AARON (W) • ED McGUINNESS (A)
COVER BY ALAN DAVIS
...
THE ALL-NEW SECRET AVENGERS!
It’s hard to run the Avengers without a support staff. And for a team as wild, weird and insanely powerful as this new Avengers squad, just one Jarvis would never do. Luckily, Black Panther has assembled the wildest and weirdest support staff you’ve ever seen. Meet Gorilla Man, Ka-Zar and the rest of the Agents of Wakanda.
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99


I just read the first collection of Aaron, McGuinness and all-the-fill-in-artists-necessary-to-allow-McGuinness-to-be-the-"regular"-artist-on-a-series' Avengers title, and thought it was pretty great...but was also pretty much just plot, and thus the sort of comic that I couldn't really get a feel of where it would or could go from there, so I wasn't sure if I should buy the second volume too, or just trade-wait it. What say you guys...?

I like this cover. Before reading the solicitation copy, I thought maybe those guys up there were The Avengers, or a The Avengers. I like a bunch of them a whole lot, and anything that gets Gorilla-Man or any of Jeff Parker's Agents of Atlas line-up back in circulation again is fine by me (I just re-read What If? #9 the other night, the issue featuring the 1950s Avengers that was basically The Agents of Atlas and 3-D Man, and I'll probably be posting at some length about that comic and those characters in the near future).


AVENGERS #13
JASON AARON (W) • Andrea Sorrentino (A)
COVER BY Steve Epting
CONAN VERSUS MARVEL VILLAINS VARIANT COVER BY MIKE MCKONE
...
FEATURING THE IRON FIST OF 1,000,000 BC!
ANDREA SORRENTINO JOINS SERIES WRITER JASON AARON another flashback tale of the Prehistoric Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Meet the primordial woman who was the first to harness the power of the heart of the dragon Shou-Lao, becoming the very first Iron Fist.
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99


Oh, never mind. The part I liked least about Jason Aaron's Avengers was the idea of the Avengers 1,000,000 B.C., and how their make-up determined the current line-up. Well, the idea was fine, I guess, but I felt the story arc spent far too much time with those characters, who were basically a pretty fun idea that could have been exhausted in a few pages. So a whole comic devoted to one of those Avengers? Pass.

...

Unless it was Ghost Rider 1,000,000 B.C., who was a burning skeleton riding atop a flaming woolly mammoth. That character I am interested in learning more about.

And I am not a fan of Andrea Sorrentino's art. At all. The most frustrating part of Secret Empire was, for me, trying to figure out what was supposed to be happening on Sorrentino's pages.

So look for Avengers Vol. 2 and future collections of this series in the "borrowed" section of "A Month of Wednesdays" columns rather than the "bought" section.

Note the sublet difference in this variant cover theme versus one of those from last month: This is Conan versus Marvel villains. I wonder if Marvel had to publish a new Conan comic, or if they could have gotten the license just to reprint all the excellent Dark Horse stuff and then use him on variant covers...?



CAPTAIN AMERICA #7
TA-NEHISI COATES (W) • Adam Kubert (A) • Cover by ALEX ROSS
...
“FUGITIVE” BEGINS HERE!
SUPERSTAR ARTIST ADAM KUBERT JOINS TA-NEHISI COATES FOR THE NEXT DRAMATIC DEVELOPMENT IN THE LIFE OF MARVEL’S SOLDIER SUPREME!
Captain America — wanted for murder! And the victim is a familiar face in the Marvel Universe! How? Why? You’ll have to read to find out!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99


Well, I bet it's not Stingray.


CONAN THE BARBARIAN #1
JASON AARON (W) • MAHMUD ASRAR (A)
Cover by ESAD RIBIC
PARTY VARIANT COVER BY MAHMUD ASRAR
Variant Cover by GREG HILDEBRANDT
Teaser Variant Cover by ESAD RIBIC
PREMIERE VARIANT COVER BY ESAD RIBIC
Variant Cover by GERARDO ZAFFINO
Variant Cover by Daniel Acuña
Variant Cover by Jesus Saiz
Variant Cover by Bill Sienkewicz
Variant Cover by John Cassaday
Variant Cover by Kirbi Fagan
Variant Cover by Adi Granov
Action Figure Variant Cover by John Tyler Christopher
VARIANT COVER BY SKOTTIE YOUNG
BLANK VARIANT COVER ALSO AVAILABLE
BY CROM, THE GREATEST SWORD-AND-SORCERY HERO RETURNS TO MARVEL!
From an age undreamed…hither came Conan the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandaled feet…
Robert E. Howard’s creation returns to comics, in an epic tale as only MARVEL could bring you! Conan’s travels have brought him to the far reaches of the unkown, from his birthplace in Cimmeria to the kingdom of Aquilonia and all in between. As his fighting prowess allows him to carve his way through life, so too does it attract the forces of death!
The all-new ages-spanning saga begins here, by writer Jason Aaron (THE MIGHTY THOR, STAR WARS) and artist Mahmud Asrar (UNCANNY X-MEN, ALL-NEW, ALL-DIFFERENT AVENGERS), as Conan’s destiny is forever changed!
48 PGS./Parental Advisory …$4.99


Conan returns to Marvel Comics with...15 covers...?! I don't remember the exact count--it was higher by about 10-15 though, I want to say--but this first issue reminds me quite a bit of the return of the Star Wars franchise to Marvel. Hopefully this one works a little differently than their reclaimed Star Wars license, which sold gangbusters for a while, and then plummeted down to your basic okay-comics-sales-by-today's-standards-levels.

Of course, I'm going to assume comparing Star Wars to Conan is like comparing space apples to Hyborean oranges, as the former is one of the biggest brands in the world and the latter's more of a niche thing for a niche audience. Additionally, it's pretty unlikely Marvel would even attempt to over-exploit the Conan property the way they did the Star Wars one, diluting it into a nigh impossible line to follow/collect. Although, I guess I should never bet on Marvel not finding away to stripmine fan interest in a particular character or concept. We could very well be talking about Conan 2099, Conan: Gold, Deadpool Vs. Conan, Conan Adventures, Conan and Hercules: Punchin' Buddies, Spider-Geddon II: Conan The Spiderrian, Conan and Namor: The Brave and The Bare-Chested and The Fantastic Four But With Conan Instead of The Invisible Woman Now.

We'll see. I can definitely wait for the trade on this series, as I tired of the comics after a few years worth of Dark Horse's run, my interest only occasionally piquing for the presence of particular creators being involved, and Aaron and Asrar don't interest me on a Marvel Conan in the way that, say, a Ryan North and GURIHIRU Conan comic might.

Hmm...Conan, Star Wars...what old franchise will Marvel reclaim next? G.I. Joe? Transformers? Godzilla? Alf?

Or mayhap this:


TRUE BELIEVERS: CONAN THE BARBARIAN #1
Reprinting Conan the Barbarian (1970) #1
32 PGS./Rated T …$1.00

TRUE BELIEVERS: CONAN — THE TOWER OF THE ELEPHANT #1
Reprinting Conan the Barbarian (1970) #4
32 PGS./Rated T …$1.00

TRUE BELIEVERS: CONAN — THE DEVIL-GOD OF BAL-SAGOTH! #1
Reprinting Conan the Barbarian (1970) #17
32 PGS./Rated T …$1.00

TRUE BELIEVERS: CONAN — SWORDS IN THE NIGHT! #1
Reprinting Conan the Barbarian (1970) #23
32 PGS./Rated T …$1.00

TRUE BELIEVERS: CONAN — CURSE OF THE GOLDEN SKULL! #1
Reprinting Conan the Barbarian (1970) #37
32 PGS./Rated T …$1.00

TRUE BELIEVERS: CONAN — QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST! #1
Reprinting Conan the Barbarian (1970) #58
32 PGS./Rated T …$1.00

TRUE BELIEVERS: CONAN — THE SECRET OF SKULL RIVER #1
Reprinting Savage Tales (1971) #5
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$1.00

TRUE BELIEVERS: KING CONAN #1
Reprinting King Conan #1
40 PGS./Rated T …$1.00

TRUE BELIEVERS: WHAT IF CONAN THE BARBARIAN WALKED THE EARTH TODAY? #1
Reprinting What If? (1977) #13
32 PGS./Rated T …$1.00

TRUE BELIEVERS: CONAN — RESURRECTION #1
Reprinting Conan the Barbarian (1970) #187
32 PGS./Rated T …$1.00


Remember what I said about not being interested in Marvel's Conan comics? That definitely does not apply to these True Believers $1 reprints, of which I want to read them all, especially What If Conan The Conan The Barbarian Walked The Earth Today?, which I see there was originally created in 1977*, which is a long, long way from "today."


FRIENDLY NEIGHBORHOOD SPIDER-MAN #1 & #2
TOM TAYLOR (W) • JUANN CABAL (A)
CoverS by ANDREW C. ROBINSON
...
Spider-Man is the worst neighbor EVER! There are always crazy villains and property damage and drama and…and he CATCHES the villains. And he tries to fix the damage and he helps carry your groceries and actually that property damage keeps the rents down. You know what? Spider-Man is the best neighbor ever and this book will give you a closer look at Spider-Man’s (and Peter Parker’s) neighborhood than any book ever. Also, it wouldn’t be a Spider-Man adventure without a threat that could destroy not only Spider-Man, but all his neighbors. Superstar writer TOM TAYLOR (X-MEN RED, ALL-NEW WOLVERINE, Injustice) and rising art star JUANN CABAL (ALL-NEW WOLVERINE, X-23) give you the most local Spider-Man ever!
32 PGS. (EACH)/Rated T …$3.99 (EACH)


So the last All-New Wolverine creative team on a new Spider-Man series...? Okay, that's not t he team I would have expected on this particular title, but I can see that working. Cabal is a really, really good artist.


ICEMAN #5 (OF 5)
SINA GRACE (W)
NATHAN STOCKMAN (A)
Cover by W. SCOTT FORBES
• Iceman vs. Mr. Sinister, winner takes all!
• Mr. Sinister finally has Iceman where he wants him.
• But Iceman isn’t out for the count yet, as everything Bobby has learned has led up to this moment!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99


Oh. The return of Iceman was just a miniseries? I must have missed that. I assumed it was going to be an ongoing, especially since it doesn't seem to have a sub-title. I wonder if the idea is to do a series of miniseries, the way Dark Horse used to handle so many of their ongoing series....?


INVADERS #1
CHIP ZDARSKY (W) • CARLOS MAGNO & BUTCH GUICE (A)
Cover by BUTCH GUICE
...
THE GREATEST GENERATION OF MARVEL HEROES IS BACK – TO STOP ONE OF THEIR OWN!
In commemoration of Marvel’s 80th anniversary and springing from events in the pages of AVENGERS and THE BEST DEFENSE, the Marvel Universe’s first super-team is back! CAPTAIN AMERICA. THE HUMAN TORCH. THE WINTER SOLDIER. NAMOR. They fought in WORLD WAR II together as THE INVADERS. But now NAMOR is the enemy, a global threat more powerful than ever. His deadly plans are as deep and far-reaching as the ocean and REVELATIONS about his past could THREATEN the MARVEL UNIVERSE! It’s up to his old teammates to stop him, but what chance do they have against the man who knows their every move? "War Ghost” begins here!
40 PGS./Rated T …$4.99


I kind of love these characters, and while I didn't think the last Invaders title--the one written by James Robinson--was all that great, I did like the limited series that Alex Ross and company had put together about...God, was it ten years ago or so now...? I'll be quite curious to see how Chip Zdarsky, all of whose comics I have read have been at least 50% comedic, takes on a group of characters not particularly known for their senses of humor.

Right now, I am hoping that the Namor who did the bad thing isn't the "real" Namor, because I have a hard time believing the real Namor would ever wear that stupid-looking armor...


TONY STARK: IRON MAN #8
DAN SLOTT (W) • VALERIO SCHITI (A)
Cover by ALEXANDER LOZANO
...
• You’re not really wearing a jetpack, user. It’s a game.
• You’re not really shooting someone and stealing their car, user. It’s just a game.
• You’re not really taking that drink, Tony Stark…
• Do not miss this issue of Iron Man. “Digital Demon in a Bottle” is literally a game changer!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99


While not as hilarious-looking as the original "Demon in a Bottle" cover, that is a pretty fancy and nice-looking Iron Man cover. It sounds like this will be about Tony encountering some sort of video game in which he can drink, and that unlocking his alcoholism. But, personally, I hope that it turns out it is about Tony attempting to overcome a new digital addiction: Candy Crush, perhaps, or Farmville.



*Well, the solicitation copy seems to imply that the issue was published in 1977, but comics.org, where I got that cover, says that issue came out in 1979, and '77 was simply the year the series launched.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

DC's January previews reviewed

BATGIRL: YEAR ONE DELUXE EDITION HC
written by CHUCK DIXON and SCOTT BEATTY
art and cover by MARCOS MARTIN and ALVARO LOPEZ
Determined to join the ranks of crime-fighters against the wishes of her police-captain father, Barbara Gordon dons a caped costume to become Batgirl, and must overcome Batman’s skepticism while taking on archvillain Killer Moth. Collects BATGIRL: YEAR ONE #1-9.
ON SALE 02.20.19
$34.99 US | 7.0625” x 10.875” | 240 PAGES
FC | ISBN: 978-1-4012-8793-1


This is a pretty great comic, and should be on any Batgirl fan's shelves, if it somehow wasn't already there. I'm not sure what "Deluxe Edition" means exactly, as this looks like a pretty substantial package in terms of price and length, and I know the Batgirl: Year One series wasn't so long that it couldn't have previously been collected with Robin: Year One. I'm also not sure what's going on with the toes of Batgirl's boots in the image above, either.


BATGIRL #30
written by MAIRGHREAD SCOTT
art and cover by PAUL PELLETIER and NORM RAPMUND
...
You can take the Batgirl out of Gotham City, but you can’t take Gotham out of the Batgirl! Politics gets personal as the race for Congress in Gotham City heats up, leading to civil unrest in Barbara’s new neighborhood—as a new villain begins to make themselves known!
ON SALE 01.02.19
$3.99 US | 32 PAGES
FC | RATED T

BATGIRL #31
written by MAIRGHREAD SCOTT
art and cover by PAUL PELLETIER and NORM RAPMUND
...
In this issue, it’s Batgirl for Congress! Plus, masked assassins and awkward exes! Barbara Gordon volunteers to campaign for an up-and-coming reformer candidate who wants to take on the GCPD. That puts Barbara in a tough spot against her father—police commissioner James Gordon. And just when things couldn’t get any more awkward, a former flame reenters Barbara’s life. Personal angst and a masked super-villain hunting a mystery target. It’s gonna be a long day, Babs.
ON SALE 01.30.19
$3.99 US | 32 PAGES
FC | RATED T


Well, that new costume has yet to grow on me...

And I suppose that's kind of ironic, given how closely it resembles the one Marcos Martin and company drew her in during Batgirl: Year One, which you can see was pretty clearly an inspiration for the new one, but I think the cowl vs. domino mask and bat ears makes all the difference there.

These solicits were interesting because they reminded me that Barbara Gordon was, once upon a time, a member of Congress, something I don't think I've seen referenced anywhere in...forever, I'm going to say.


BLACK LIGHTNING: BRICK CITY BLUES TP
written by TONY ISABELLA
art by EDDY NEWELL, MIKE HUDDLESTON, OCTAVIO CARIELLO and others
cover by EDDIE NEWELL
The world’s a very different place from the one schoolteacher Jefferson Pierce once knew, and Black Lightning isn’t the same hero he was. Older and wiser, Black Lightning resurfaces with a ferocious new look and a dangerous edge in a city desperately needing a hero. Collects Black Lightning #1-13 and a tale from DC Universe Holiday Bash #2.
ON SALE 02.20.19
$19.99 US | 352 PAGES
FC | ISBN: 978-1-4012-8799-3


I'm a little surprised to see this series being reprinted, and also not at all surprised, given the fact that there's now a Black Lightning TV show and there are only so many extant Black Lightning comics. I've only read one issue of the series, which I found in a back issue bin and bought because Eddy Newell drew it; Newell is from, or at least lived for some time, in Ashtabula, Ohio...my home town!
And that of Plastic Man's mother, apparently.

I kind of like that costume, and prefer it to the various skintight spandex one's the character usually wears. Not only does it look like a more modernized version of his original duds, but it actually has a bolt of black lightning integrated into its design. I think that's pretty necessary in a Black Lightning costume in the 21st century, but then, that's just me (I also think his bolts should be of black-colored lighting, or at least be of a purple "black light" color).

I bet if you changed the red of this costume into the more familiar light, electric blue color of other Black Lighting costmues, and maybe smoothed the '90s out of it a bit, that would be a pretty great black Lightning costume. The need for a domino mask would depend on whether or not Jefferson Pierce has a secret identity or not; I lost track.

Oh, and at 350-pages for $20, this seems like a hell of a deal. Sure, you could probably assemble the whole series for less than $20 is you were diligent in searching back-issue bins, but then you'd have to mess around with a bunch of bags and boards.


Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!

That is all.


DETECTIVE COMICS #996
written by PETER J. TOMASI
art by DOUG MAHNKE and JAIME MENDOZA
cover by DOUG MAHNKE
variant cover by BRIAN STELFREEZE
In the catacombs under Paris, Henri Ducard is not going to sit and wait for the death that’s coming for everyone who helped to train Batman…he’s going to wrestle it to the ground and put a bullet between its eyes! Good plan—but what if it just gets right back up? Can even Batman save him then?
ON SALE 01.16.19
$3.99 US | 32 PAGES
FC | RATED T


Damn, that is one scary Batman that Doug Mahnke drew on the cover...!

I'm curious to see how this differs from John Byrne and Jim Aparo's "The Man Deaths of The Batman" arc, which was about someone killing all the people who helped train Batman, as surely Tomasi would have been familiar with that story's existence (Fun fact: That was one of the first trade paperback collections I ever bought, back when those were still weird and rare novelties...it cost me all of $3.95)

Oh, and note who's drawing the variant cover for this issue: Former Shadow of The Bat cover artists Brian Stelfreeze. I look forward to seeing how his Batman has changed in the last 20 years or so.


ELSEWORLDS: JUSTICE LEAGUE VOL. 3 TP
written by CHUCK DIXON, EVAN DORKIN, PAT McGREAL, FABIAN NICIEZA and others
art by EDUARDO BARRETO, NORM BREYFOGLE, DAVE GIBBONS, KEVIN MAGUIRE and others
cover by BRIAN BOLLAND
In this long-forgotten tale, Mr. Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite battle across the entire Multiverse, and almost every character you can think of is along for the ride! Plus, when a cosmic storm passes over planet Earth, it brings a mysterious plague that nearly kills the entire male population, and the only two men who survive are Superman and Lex Luthor! Collects Conjurors #1-3, Flashpoint (1999) #1-3, Superman and Batman: World’s Funnest#1, JLA: Created Equal #1-2 and Green Lantern: 1001 Emerald nights #1.
ON SALE 02.20.19 | $34.99 US | 432 PAGES
FC | ISBN: 978-1-4012-8791-7


I was just talking about this the other day, in reference to Norm Breyfogle's work. He drew the Flashpoint miniseries. I've only read about half of these, but I'm going to assume it's worth investing in for the World's Funnest story alone. Between that and Norm Breyfogle drawing The Flash, I think this will be a wise investment, even if the stories I'm unfamiliar with aren't all that great.


THE GREEN LANTERN #3
written by GRANT MORRISON
art and cover by LIAM SHARP
...
When the Earth goes up for sale on the alien black market, it’s up to the Green Lantern Corps to bust up “The Slave Lords of the Stars” in the latest space saga from Grant Morrison (MULTIVERSITY) and Liam Sharp (WONDER WOMAN)! With the Justice League frozen by Gamma Gong tech, Earth ends up on the auction block, and Volgar Zo hosts a menagerie of the universe’s deadliest despots and criminals: Steppenwolf, Queen Bee, the Dominators and much, much worse. Hal Jordan leads a squad of Lanterns into the fray—and someone’s going to pay the ultimate price before this case gets closed.
ON SALE 01.09.19
$3.99 US | 32 PAGES
FC | RATED T+


I'm at least as interested in the work of Grant Morrison as I am disinterested in Hal Jordan, so I was planning on trade-waiting this series. Of course, that was before I saw that awesome cover by Liam Sharp. Now I'm a little torn. Mention of the Gamma Gong and the promise of Morrison writing the Justice League again only further push me toward not waiting a day longer than I have to.


HEROES IN CRISIS #5
written by TOM KING
art by CLAY MANN
cover by TREVOR HAIRSINE
variant cover by RYAN SOOK
The secrets of the DC Universe are hacked! Sanctuary wasn’t supposed to keep records, but now that the A.I. is compromised, superhero secrets are leaking all over the ’Net. Booster and Harley set aside their differences to focus on who they believe is the real killer (assuming one of them isn’t lying, that is). Meanwhile, Batman and the Flash continue to investigate the mysterious murderer. The answer can be found in Sanctuary…but is it safe to go digging in the crime scene?
ON SALE 01.30.19


The "'Net"....? Who calls the Internet the "'Net"? Is it really that hard to just type two extra syllables, "in" and "ter"? This solicitation seems like it was written in the mid-1990s.


INJUSTICE VS. MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE #6
written by TIM SEELEY
art and cover by FREDDIE E. WILLIAMS II
He-Man is beset on all sides—by enemies and allies alike. If he helps Superman use the Nexus, he may save Earth from ever falling to injustice. But Skeletor has a marvelous trick up his sleeve! The battle rages, but who will prevail?
ON SALE 01.02.19
$3.99 US | 6 of 6 | 32 PAGES
FC | RATED T


So it looks like He-Man has stolen Captain Marvel's dumb white costume from back when he was going by "Marvel" and Freddie Freeman had taken up the mantle of "Shazam." Well, I suppose "Shazam!" is a lot easier to say than "By the power of Grayskull, I have the power!"


NAOMI #1
written by BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS and DAVID F. WALKER
art and cover by JAMAL CAMPBELL
...
DC’s biggest, newest mystery starts here!
When a fight between Superman and Mongul crashes into a small Northwestern town, Naomi (last name?) begins a quest to uncover the last time a super-powered person visited her home—and how that might tie into her own origins and adoption.
Follow Naomi’s journey on a quest that will take her to the heart of the DC Universe and unfold a universe of ideas and stories that have never been seen before. Join writers Brian Michael Bendis, David Walker and breakout artist Jamal Campbell in Wonder Comics’ massively ambitious new series and star…NAOMI.
ON SALE 01.23.19
$3.99 US | 32 PAGES
FC | RATED T+


Brian Michael Bendis sure seems to be writing a lot of comics now, doesn't he? Like, a lot even for Brian Michael Bendis? This is part of his recently announced personal imprint Wonder Comics, and seems to be the sole book featuring a brand new character. I'm curious about it.


Well, Amanda Conner's version of a female Bane, on the cover of this month's Old Lady Harley, looks to be a bit better of a rendering than the female Bane that Jim Calafiore drew within the pages of Gotham Underground:
I'm not a doctor, but I thought it was weird that the venom super-steroid was apparently being pumped into her breasts, given that there's not much in the way of muscle there, but, again, I am not a doctor.



THE OTHER HISTORY OF THE DC UNIVERSE #1
written by JOHN RIDLEY
art and cover by ALEX DOS DIA
Academy Award-winning screenwriter John Ridley (12 Years a Slave, Let It Fall) examines the mythology of the DC Universe in this compelling new miniseries that reframes iconic moments of DC history and charts a previously unexplored sociopolitical thread as seen through the prism of DC Super Heroes who come from traditionally disenfranchised groups.

This unique new series presents its story as prose by Ridley married with beautifully realized color illustrations from a selection of exciting illustrators and comics artists. Alex Dos Diaz provides art for #1, which follows the story of Jefferson Pierce, the man who will one day become Black Lightning, as he makes his way from being a young track star to a teacher and, ultimately, to his role as a hero.

Future issues focus on characters such as Karen and Mal Duncan, Tatsu Yamashiro and Renee Montoya.

Extensively researched and masterfully executed, THE OTHER HISTORY OF THE DC UNIVERSE promises to be an experience unlike any other. You may think you know the history of the DC Universe…but the truth is far more complex. THE OTHER HISTORY OF THE DC UNIVERSE isn’t about saving the world—it’s about having the strength to simply be who you are.
PRESTIGE FORMAT
ON SALE 01.30.19
$7.99 US | 1 of 5 | 64 PAGES
APPROX. 8.5” x 10.875”


The Other History of the DC Universe, huh? The idea of reliving DC history through the points-of-view of heroes of color, or, um, "the prism of DC Super Heroes who come from traditionally disenfranchised groups" is a pretty cool idea. The most immediate problem I see with this, however, is that DC doesn't seem to have a history of the DC Universe at the moment, let alone room for an "other" history. Like, if DC history/continuity weren't so infinitely flexible, this might be a lot more compelling, but since everything seems currently up in the air, I don't know. This might have been a better story to tell pre-Flashpoint, or post-Doomsday Clock.

The second problem? Even though it is Ridley's name that will be selling this project, it appears that there is still some effort being put into using star characters, hence Black Lightning, Detective Renee Montoya, Katana and, um, Bumblebee and Herald (Bumblebee at least has a high-profile among fans of DC Super Hero Girls). These then are all "modern" heroes, of the current generation or so. Would it be more compelling to see the Golden Age or Silver Age through that prism? But then, if Bumblebee and Herald seem obscure-ish, can you imagine DC building issues of a prestige series around the likes of Amazing Man, Flying Fox, Tsunami, Tom Kalmaku and so on.

The big problem, for me though, is that this is illustrated prose, not comics. Ugh. I can't speak for all superhero fans, obviously, but the reason I like superheroes is that they star in comic books, so this sounds pretty unappealing as a read, as curious as I am about the project. I have read and enjoyed the comic book-shaped illustrated prose books I've read before, but those were written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by either Charles Vess or Yoshitaka Amano, and I don't know how good Alex Dos Dia is, but that single image of Black Lightning shown above doesn't fill me with hope that Dia is on par with Vess or Amano.


SCOOBY-DOO TEAM-UP #45
written by SHOLLY FISCH
art and cover by DARIO BRIZUELA
Scooby and Shaggy can escape from trouble faster than anyone…except the greatest super-escape artist in the universe, Mister Miracle! But can even Mister Miracle and his super-strong wife Big Barda help the gang—and the Earth—escape an invasion of monsters from Apokolips? And free their teammates from the clutches of the merciless Granny Goodness before Daphne and Velma are transformed into Granny’s latest Female Furies?
ON SALE 01.02.19
$2.99 US | 32 PAGES
FC | RATED E


Is it wrong that I kinda hope that our heroes can't rescue Daphne and Velma from the clutches of the merciless Granny Goodness until after they are transformed into Granny's latest Female Furies...? Because I really want to see what they might look like, and what their Fury names and powers might be.

Oh, and apparently there are two issues of Scooby-Doo Team-Up this month, the other being a Black Lightning issue.


YOUNG JUSTICE #1
written by BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS
art and cover by PATRICK GLEASON
...
Superboy! Wonder Girl! Robin! Impulse! Amethyst! They’re all united in YOUNG JUSTICE #1, the debut issue of a brand-new series that also introduces new heroes Teen Lantern and Jinny Hex!
When the nightmare dimension known as Gemworld invades Metropolis, these teen heroes reunite to deal with the situation—but they’re shocked to discover the battle may be the key to the return of Conner Kent, a.k.a. Superboy! This mix of fan favorites and new legacy heroes will be the center point for some of the biggest goings-on at DC! As if that weren’t enough, Bendis reunites with all-star artist Patrick Gleason (SUPERMAN, ACTION COMICS, GREEN LANTERN CORPS) to bring the new heroes of DC’s Wonder Comics to life!
ON SALE 01.09.19
$4.99 US | 40 PAGES
FC | RATED T+


Well this was pretty unexpected, given that Flaspoint so hopelessly scrambled all of these characters that I'm not sure how on Earth reuniting Robin Tim Drake, Superman's clone The Kid/Kon-El/Conner Kent and Impulse Bart Allen back together is even possible, even in superhero comics. I'm also not sure that Brian Michael Bendis is the one to do it, but I'm glad the attempt is being made. I assume they will just have to completely ignore teh New 52 Teen Titans and the New 52 Amethyst stories, maybe...? If this works, no one--well, few people--will be as happy as I, as those are some of my favorite characters, and just about everything that's happened to them for, like, decades now has been negative. Hell, Tim Drake's Robin costume is even much, much less terrible than, like, his last eight costumes!

I'm not sure who this "Teen Lantern" character is, but I have to assume it is not this guy--
--the de-aged Green Lantern Alan Scott from the Young Justice crossover storyline, "Sins of Youth."

Sunday, October 14, 2018

A Month of Wednesdays: September 2018


BOUGHT:


Aquaman: The Legend of Aquaman (DC Comics) God damn, could Curt Swan draw! I guess I always knew, intellectually, what a great artist Swan was, but I didn't necessarily feel it like I did while reading the Aquaman stories contained within this 180-page collection of the 1989 Aquaman Special and the five-issue Aquaman miniseries that immediately followed it. I think that's because this was the first time I can remember seeing Swan's pencil art outside of the context I expected to see it in.

That is, I think almost every single time I have seen something that Swan had drawn, it was in the pages of a Superman comic of some sort, and his design, depiction and rendering of The Man of Steel and his friends at The Daily Planet were just so perfect and so frequent that--and this will sound stupid, I know--I guess I didn't really even consider them as art, or as drawings of those characters, as much as I just considered them them. Like, is this a great drawing of Superman? No, that's Superman. Period. That's what Superman looks like, so that's just Superman being Superman over there.

Does that make any sense at all?

Anyway, I don't think of Swan drawing Aquaman at all, so reading these issues for the first time was a real revelation of just how good Swan was.

There are two related stories in here. The one from the Special is basically just an Aquaman origin story. Swan's pencil art is guided by the layouts of plotter Keith Giffen, and it is inked by Eric Shanower. It is seriously great stuff. I'm not sure if I'd necessarily go so far as to say that this is the very best Aquaman art I've ever read, but, well, it's up there. It's certainly not often I find myself pausing while reading an Aquaman comic to drink in the line work. Robert Loren Fleming rounds out the creative team, and he handles the script.

As I said, it's basically an origin story, starting with Aquaman as a blonde baby abandoned to die on Mercy Reef, then wandering the seas alone as a youth, meeting lighthouse keeper Arthur Curry who gradually adopts him as a son, trying out the surface world beyond the lighthouse and ultimately finding Atlantis, which he came to as an outsider before rising to be its king.

This version of the origin--the post-Crisis, pre-Brightest Day one--is well told, and it keeps many of the important elements of the Silver Age version without committing to them. The one that shows up in Peter David's run on the monthly doesn't necessarily contradict this one in any way, either. The parts that jumped out at me as new were the explanations of where Aquaman's superhero name and his costume came from.

The miniseries is much longer, but its story more simple. The only change to the creative team is that Al Vey replaces Shanower as inker, and though the difference is marked, it doesn't diminish how impressive Swan's artwork is, nor the overall strength of the comic as a whole--the style is simply a bit different.

In this story, Aquaman returns to Atlantis only to find that it has been conquered by mysterious invaders that conceal their appearance, using an army of water-breathing mercenary soldiers that look no different from the Atlanteans to do the actual fighting, while they observe and give orders from mysterious vehicles. Aquaman is captured and taken prisoner, returning to the prison he spent time in during the Special, and he uses his leadership abilities and super-powers to rally his people, free the city and turn back the invaders, who turn out to be rather creepy-looking jellyfish with hideous humanoid death mask-like faces.

There's also a kind of weird sub-plot involving Mera, who was apparently thrown into an underwater asylum after having gone crazy over the death of Arthur Jr. She and Aquaman fight quite a bit, and he accidentally kills her, but she survives death, because of her alien nature. This probably made more sense in the 1980s, if one was up to date on what the hell was going on with the aqua-marriage.

Those jellyfish creatures are a pretty great design. I know this because when I saw them in here, I immediately recognized them. I had never read these comics before, but I did see a tiny image of those creatures before, as part of a house ad for this miniseries that ran in DC comics at the time, which I must have encountered a decade or two ago in something from a back issue bin. So they were striking enough that seeing them that one time impressed them upon my memory.

The collection ends with a four-page prose article by Mark Waid, the editor of these comics, recounting the publishing history of Aquaman. It's pretty fascinating reading for fans of a certain kind (my kind, basically), and I was particularly interested in the retelling of the original, Golden Age Aquaman, who was basically overwritten by the "real" Aquaman that followed. That Aquaman's story reminded me quite a bit of the new Aquaman who appeared in the Kurt Busiek-written Sword of Atlantis series from 2006-2007, and made me wonder if Busiek was inspired by those stories (or even just Waid's summary of them) when pitching for it.


Archie Meets Batman '66 #3 (Archie Comics) Wow, now that's a cover! Be sure to peruse it carefully...not just to ogle Betty, Veronica, Catwoman and Robin, of course, but to find The Joker... Oh, and note the flock of bats seemingly following Batman as he runs towards the water with his board, wearing shorts over the shorts he wears over his pants.

Sigh...the perfect cover...

There are just as many bathing suits inside, although these are drawn on the teens by Dan Parent and J.Bone, rather than cover artist Mike Allred. When the Riverdalians are unable to take transfer students Barbara Gordon and Dick Grayson to Pop's, which the villains have taken over and started using as their hideout, they opt for a pool party at Veronica Lodge's instead (Hiram is only too happy to host the ward of millionaire Bruce Wayne). Meanwhile, The Joker takes Jughead hostage, and, back in Gotham City, Batman closes in on Bookworm.

This is a pretty great comic book, a pretty much perfect crossover between two very different properties that nevertheless feels like a natural extension of them both.


Bane: Conquest (DC) So this is a Chuck Dixon comic. Like a lot of people my age, I have a somewhat problematic relationship with Dixon, the person. The fact that he was so incredibly prolific a writer and was writing for DC's Bat-office in the early '90s meant I spent a lot of time reading his work; in fact, without actually doing the math, I bet there's a pretty good chance that he's the comics writer whose work I read the most of most often for many years. Dixon didn't create Robin Tim Drake or Nightwing Dick Grayson, but he did popularize and define them for years. Spoiler Stephanie Brown, The Birds of Prey, cryptosexual multiethnic Buddhist vegetarian Green Arrow Connor Hawke? That was all Dixon for a long, long time. Ironically, he's given a lot of fans a lot of their favorite characters...or at least helped keep those characters in popular circulation for years.

He's also a really good comics writer. He's not great, and I can't think of anything he's ever written that has blown my mind, or that I would have enthusiastically tried to cajole someone else into reading, or would have made anyone's best-of-the-year list during the year it was produced, or that I would consider "literature," but for super-comics? Manly-man 1980s-style action adventure genre stuff? He has produced extremely solid work with clockwork regularity for as long as DC, Marvel or anyone else would give him the chance to do so.

On the other hand, his politics are kind of fucked-up. To his credit, you generally can't tell that he is, as he has said before, "to the right of Genghis Khan," simply from reading the majority of his mainstream super-comics work (at least, not his DC stuff; almost everyone seems like they might be a fascist when writing Marvel's Punisher, because that's basically who the character is).

Every once in a while I will see his name associated with something truly abhorrent online, and I'll swear him off. Then I will forget what it was, exactly. For example, I can remember reading an article on The Beat about Dixon adapting something truly awful into an original graphic novel, and I remember thinking that it's sad how far he's fallen--I mean, he's even writing for Zenescope, now!--but now I can't, for the life of me, remember what that book was.

So I bought and read this graphic novel, collecting the 12-part maxi-series Dixon wrote with artist Graham Nolan, his Bane co-creator and one-time Detective Comics partner, well aware that Dixon and I likely agree on very little, but between reading it and sitting down to write this, I again saw Dixon's name in a rather unsavory place.

See, the other day everyone on Twitter (and elsewhere on the Internet) was talking shit about that one terrible online comics gossip column-turned-website--like, much more than those same people usually do--and while it took awhile to figure out what they were reacting to, apparently that dumb website ran a 10 million-word interview with one of those weird garbage people who thinks the problem with the comics industry and the comics medium is that they just aren't racist and sexist enough. And while Dixon's name isn't associated with that movement in the same way that Ethan Van Sciver's is--at least not to my knowledge! I get all my info on this nonsense via subtweet!--my looking around to see what all the hubbub was about revealed that Dixon is working with that terrible interviewee with the fake name on a comics project.

So now I kinda regret buying this, as I'm just not in the mood to give Dixon some royalties at the moment, even if the fact that I spent so much time reading his work when I was a teenager makes me think of him as more of an uncouth, old-fashioned Great Uncle who spends too much time watching Fox News than, like, an actual monster.

On the other other hand, though, I guess it is cool that DC gave Dixon and, especially, Nolan a platform like this to do their own thing for a year. They aren't any less talented than they were in the 1990s--their 'Tec run* was really quite good, and worth seeking out in back issue bins if you missed any of it--even if their respective styles now seem somewhat out of fashion.

This is a somewhat strange book, as it is very long for a miniseries, and obviously not an ongoing--it reads a little like a pre-cancelled ongoing Bane series, if that makes sense. It's not exactly one long storyline with a complete beginning, middle and end--that is, it doesn't read like a graphic novel--but more like a comic book series with a built-in expiration. It's also strange in the way that it is basically a tangent diverging from the regular Batman comics. Bane has been appearing off and on in Tom King's Batman series, where it was recently revealed that he is the mastermind of some big, dumb plan to break Batman's heart, and yet the Bane in this comic is very different than that Bane.

That said, this Bane is the one from his original creators, and it is the one that reads the most like the one from the first few years of the character's existence.

Bane is working with his original henchmen introduced in Batman: Vengeance of Bane--Bird, Zombie and Trogg--who were more-or-less forgotten for decades after the events of Knightfall. They've all been redesigned...except Trogg. Bane has a new mask which reveals his nose and mouth, which I hated. He also has some sort of weird meal color, and a new pair of pants. Bird shaved his hair and started dressing much less fancy, and gave up real live birds for drones. Zombie now wears face paint, has his lips sewn shut and has a super-power.

The comic basically follows Bane and his henchmen as they attempt to expand their criminal empire beyond Gotham City to the world. They encounter a crimelord named Damocles, and the strange-looking super-genius that was Damocles' secret, behind-the-scenes patron. Capturing and using him, they expand their operations, eventually coming into conflict with Kobra. Bane has a plan to destroy Kobra, and much of the second half of the book deals with that particular conflict.

Batman comes in and out of the narrative, and much is made of the two rivals as more-or-less equals whose important places in their respective worlds mean their paths can't help but cross--at least twice in these 12 issues, they are forced to fight on the same side against shared enemies. Catwoman appears in one issue, and, as the Kobra storyline reaches its climax, Bane recruits a weird rag-tag group of operatives, including The KGBeast (also very different than his recent appearances in All-Star Batman), King Faraday, Gunhawk and Bunny and someone named Crow that I am completely unfamiliar with.

The plotting is of course tight, and this is the exact sort of comic book series that Dixon could write in his sleep.

It was great to see so much Nolan art in one place like this. He has a very clean, smooth line and is particularly adept at guiding the reader's eye without forcing it. I didn't much care for Bane's new look--the villain dons his original duds in the last few issues--and it was weird to see how bad Batman's current costume looked here, given how great Nolan was at drawing the old one. That was one of the problems with the post-Flashpoint designs: There was apparently very little thought put into how easy those costumes would be to be reproduced quickly, and how they might fit into the styles of other artists. It should really go without saying that simpler is better, and that the fussier, busier Batman costume therefore doesn't translate well to the work of artists whose style isn't necessarily fussy or busy.

It's also nice to see Bane's venom super-steroid treated as a steroid, something that makes him a little bigger, stronger, more motivated and more out-of-control, rather than something that increases his size by feet and hundreds of pounds, as it has gradually become in, like, every other book.

Osoito, Bane's teddy bear, is featured prominently in the first and last chapters of the series.

So this is a pretty good comic book, a very nicely-drawn genre comic by a writer working very much in his comfort zone. That writer associates with some spectacularly awful people though, so if that's a thing that matters to you, than you might want to steer clear.

Personally I wish I would have just borrowed it from the library...of course as much as I feel icky giving money to Chuck Dixon now, I have no reason not to want to give money to Nolan, and encourage DC to hire him for more work.


Batman #54 (DC) Okay yes I dropped Batman after issue #51, as that particular issue, the first in a new arc, was well-written but super-dumb in terms of its plot (not unlike "The War of Jokes and Riddles") and because it made pretty clear that the fall-out from Catwoman's decision to not marry Batman in #50 was going to continue to buttress the book for the foreseeable future, and none of the characters' decisions or motivations in that issue made any sense at all, so it was also pretty clear that no matter how well writer Tom King might script a particular issue, or how great the artist he might be working with on a particular issue is, the book is going to continue to be a disappointing failure for a while.

But of course I totally bought this because Matt Wagner drew it. Come on, it's Matt Wagner! Drawing Batman! How am I not going to buy it?

And the art? The art is great, as one might expect. We've seen plenty of Wagner's Batman before--not enough, of course, but plenty--but I don't recall seeing him draw Nightwing at any great length before, so it was fun to see him drawing that character, as well as just seeing him play with the modern Batman milieu after so much of his past Bat-work being relegated to "Year One"-era stories.

This is a more-or-less done-in-one story, in which Dick Grayson is just kind of hanging around. He's in costume and in character as Nightwing, helping Batman fight crime (Or "crime," as it's Crazy Quilt and The Condiment King they deal with here), and hanging around Wayne Manor in his street clothes, cajoling Bruce Wayne into watching the football game with him.

Throughout the time they have the pair spend together, King and Wagner have Batman completely closed off from Dick, borderline ignoring him. So why is Dick so aggressively being there for Batman? Because Catwoman ghosted him, and Batman is sad and Dick is worried about him. It's a nice sentiment, and King engages in some pretty showy transitions between the present and the past to show that Dick is just doing for Bruce what Bruce did for him all those years ago when he took him in, as the issue regularly flashes back to Dick as a little kid being gradually, reluctantly integrated in Bruce Wayne's life.

It's well done, but, again, the nonsensical nature of the Batman's current emotional hurt taints it all. I know this was a different series, but it's the same character, but remember James Tynion's Detective Comics run...? For a large part of that, Batman thought his third Robin Tim Drake was dead, and he wasn't nearly so broken up over the violent death of his teenage partner as he here is over his girlfriend leaving him with a Dear Bat letter.

More noteworthy, at least for me, was that this issue doesn't even pretend to honor the Flashpoint/New 52 reboot, making it Example #432 or so of DC Comics apparently deciding to just ignore the reboot and go back to post-Crisis continuity, without telling readers directly. In the New 52, Dick (and Jason and Tim and Damian) were all Robins within a five-year period, which is pretty much impossible, unless they were all Robin for somewhere between six months and a year or so, and they weren't much younger when they were Robin than they are now. And so when we saw Dick Grayson's origin being retold for the then-new continuity, he was already a teenager when his parents died and Batman took him in.

Here, he is quite clearly a grade school-age kid. Not simply in the way Wagner draws him, but all the details point to his having been a little kid: He has toys in his bedroom at Wayne Manor, he refuses to eat anything but potato chips (he tells Bruce that Alfred's cucumber sandwiches are gross and that "You're gross...everything is gross!") and he pulls a chandelier down when swinging on it. This young Dick Grayson reads a lot more like the one is Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale's Batman: Dark Victory than the one in, say, 2014's Batman and Robin Annual #2.

I also didn't notice this myself when reading it, but it was pointed out to me later on Twitter: Check out Dick's Robin costume on the cover. That is, of course, the original Robin costume, but, in one of the many more perplexing changes of The New 52 continuity reboot, that costume never existed; rather, Dick's Robin costume was based on Tim Drake's, only, in keeping with New 52 aesthetic, it was redesigned to be more functional,  much busier and much, much uglier.
It also had a little red arrow, pointing to Dick's penis, for some reason.

I am, of course, totally okay with the publisher deciding to revert to the post-Crisis, pre-Flashpoint continuity and basically just integrating the good parts of the New 52 into current continuity, but man, I still wish they would have done it in some official capacity, as during Convergence or Multiversity or Dark Nights: Metal, when the fabric of time and space and thus continuity itself was under stress. Maybe that will happen at the end of Doomsday Clock, but given that Batman, Justice League and so many other DCU books publish twice a month and Doomsday Clock ships occasionally, it feels like this is going to be a problem for several hundred more pages worth of DCU adventures yet...


Batman: Kings of Fear #2 (DC) It has been an unusually emotional couple of weeks for me, in terms of thinking about my favorite Batman artists, and now that we have lost Norm Breyfogle, I am happier than ever that Kelley Jones is still here and still drawing Batman comics. He may no longer be the "regular" Batman artist, but, as a fan, I am heartened by the fact that Jones has been doing miniseries and special projects for DC on a fairly regular basis for a while now...especially considering how particular his style is and how different it is from the guys drawing the other 59 comics featuring Batman that have been published this month.

This second issue of the six-issue miniseries by Jones, writer Scott Peterson and colorist Michelle Madsen doesn't have anything in it quite as electrifying as the first issue, but that's not to say it is in anyway "bad" or anything. There are still several brilliantly staged moments, and all-around cool comic book moments, even if none of them rise to the levels of, say, that 25-panel page, or the page of Batman punching out his whole rogue's gallery at once in #1.

At the end of the first issue, Batman took a face full of The Scarecrow's fear gas. After a first splash page in which the two confront one another--and here Jones' Scarecrow is scarier than ever before, his tight-fitting, gnarly face mask looking like rotting brown skin falling off a skull--Scarecrow defeats Batman with some free association ("What's the first thing that pops into your head?"), leading to four pages of artfully constructed flashback freakouts before Batman comes to and finds The Scarecrow gone.

The rest of the issue is devoted to Batman's search for The Scarecrow, whom he doesn't find again until the very end, at which point he starts to lose control again. The plural "kings" in the title is readily apparent, given that we see Batman suffering from chemically-induced fear at the beginning and end and struggling to keep it together through the middle section, during which time he himself scares the bejeezus out of almost everyone he meets.

I know this is only quasi in continuity, as, like all of DC's comics seem to be these days, and maybe I'm the only one who notices and/or stresses out about this kind of thing, but it was interesting to me that this is quite clearly meant to be a pre-Flashpoint/New 52 story. Not just in the designs--Batman is wearing his old costume, Gordon has gone gray--but during a two-page spread in which Batman suffers a chain of memories of fighting his villains and other traumatic events, we see very specific moments like his checking the pulse of the dead Jason Todd, wearing the original Robin costume, Bane breaking his back over his knee and so on.

Now those moments, I mentioned? I suppose I should put them in their own post as this particular post is already going to be interminably long, but what the hell, let's do it here. Here are some of the coolest moments from Kings of Fear #2:

Commissioner James Gordon watches Batman drive away in the Batmobile. Note the color of Gordon's hair and mustache, which also signals this is a pre-Flashpoint series. I like the unusual amount of detail on Gordon there, and the way Jones presents both the character watching the Batmobile and the thing that he is seeing simultaneously by using the reflection in his glasses.


Batman stops searching for Scarecrow long enough to stop a group of carjackers. His first move? To strike a scary bat pose that stops the car and gets them into the street, where he can grit his teeth at them and knock 'em all out with a handful of little Batarangs. It's not often that Batman makes a full Dracula pose like that, but it's pretty cool, and a good example of Batman's theatricality, which I was talking about the other day--the idea of "Batman" being a performance by Batman.

I'm awfully fond of Jones' Gotham City, too. I like the timelessness that it has. Aside from the car, the rest of this panel looks like it could be set in any city anywhere from any time in the last few hundred years. Note the laundry hanging to dry on clotheslines stretched over the street.

Here's probably my favorite panel in this issue. A guy has just taken a shot at Batman and he clearly missed, but you can see how close he came, and how deadly the shot would have been had it hit Batman, from the huge hole in his cape...through which you can see the terrified face of the shooter, whose hand still holding the gun is now pinned against the wall, giving Batman an excuse to have his hand stretched out, allowing his cape to drape and the reader to see through the hole. That's so much information in a single image.

Batman later takes another break from his hunt for The Scarecrow to fight some street crime, warning a gang not to go through with their murderous plans ("I think you should reconsider.") They all fire at him, lined up like toy soldiers, and, as we see in the second panel where Batman was standing, they all miss him completely. He seems to have disappeared. But what shape have the shadows and the gun blasts made on the brick wall...? A scary-ass skull.

Finally, the fear gas takes effect again later in the issue, and Batman finds himself on a rooftop. How did he get there? Um, perhaps a building came to life and picked him up, as seen here...? The Scarecrow-made-of-buildings on the front is much cooler, of course, but I was glad to see that moment wasn't just for show, and was somewhat reflected by the content of the issue itself.


Bram Stoker's Dracula (IDW Productions) Or, as I like to think of it, Mike Mignola's Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula. This is IDW's well-timed 8-inch by 12-inch hardcover collection of Topps Comics' 1992-1993 adaptation of Coppola's 1992 film, a troubled favorite of young Teenage Caleb's, which he could have talked your ear off about had you asked him whether or not he liked it (He did, as does Middle-Aged Caleb, although he had a lot of problems with it, all of which could mostly be forgiven for the lush, fever dream art direction and the site of Winona Ryder in period costume).

One imagines it is back in print now because of pencil artist Mike Mignola's long-since risen star, rather than John Nyberg's inks or Roy Thomas' adaptation of Coppola's film (which, ironically and frustratingly, took an awful lot of liberties with Stoker's novel, despite the title). I didn't read the original miniseries as it was originally published--I'm not and never was a fan of direct comic book adaptations of films, unless an artist with a very particular style I am very interested in is involved, and I must confess I had no idea who Mignola was in 1992--so I can't speak to how well or how poorly it might have been colored back then, but IDW chose to present it in black and white. And it is presented in true black and white. No gradations, not re-colored with various shades of gray. It is just the white of the paper and the black of Nyberg's inks upon Mignola's pencils.

The effect is a quite stark visual narrative, filled with swathes of a black that seems to boast a peculiar brightness on the white surface. I honestly can't say if this is the best presentation of the comic in the service of the story, or if it is even a better presentation than the original, colored art was, but it is a fantastic presentation of Mignola and Nyberg's work, and maybe one of the better looks I've ever had of Mignola's art, unencumbered by color as it is, and presented at a larger size (Plus, there are many pages of scans of Mignola's original pencils sans ink at the back of the book).

And as to whether or not it serves the story best, well, that hardly matters at this point. It is a comics adaptation of a film, after all, and if one really wants to see the story of the film, one should just go watch that.

The approach does seem to point toward IDW's intentions though, and the focus of the project: It's Mignola, not Coppola or Stoker or Dracula.

It's been quite a while since I've rewatched the film--hell, maybe too long--but it was fun experiencing it like this, and it was a real blast to see Mignola-ized versions of a bad-ass Anthony Hopkins, a weirdo Gary Oldman and, of course, a particularly beautiful Winona Ryder.

As I mentioned, there's a substantial amount of back matter included here, some 15 pages of Mignola's un-inked pencils, and his original art for the series' covers. I found myself particularly amazed by these, as there are so many panels in which there are relatively few lines, and so goddam many little crosses to indicate where the blacks go. There are a few panels that consist of, say, just Ryder's Mina's face, drawn in extreme detail, floating in the middle of an empty panel, with the amorphous outline of her hair and clothing, and everything else a swarm of crosses or empty space, to be filled with black ink and background color. If you've ever tried--no matter how miserably--to fill a comics panel with readable art, it's kind of astounding how controlled Mignola's art is, and his incomprehensible-to-me ability to know how a panel will look after the next few, out-of-his-control steps, and just draw what seems to be fairly minimal lines to achieve a desired result.

Here Mignola's particular detailed minimalism style is more evident than it seems in colored pages of art.

They could have used some more back matter, though. For example, looking at the crowded-with-text covers for the original miniseries on comics.org, I see some of that text refers to trading cards included with each issue. Are those photo cards from the film, or panels from the comic, or...what? Perhaps the latter, which would explain why no images of them appear within. I'd also kinda like to see some images of the film side-by-side with panels of the comic, given how exact some of these look (which I guess I can do myself with a DVD and this book open in my lap while I watch), and I would have loved a prose piece of some kind explaining how the process worked. Like, if Thomas adapted from the script, or the finished film, and what Mignola had to work with when he drew this...he almost certainly had a cut of the film, but he had to be drawing while it was being finished and prepared for release.

Anyway, this was a great read, and I'm glad IDW was able to rescue the comic from obscurity.


Dinosaucers #2 (Lion Forge) Well there's something I didn't expect to find in a Michael Uslan, Andrew Pepoy and Jason Millet's comic book extrapolation of the Uslan-produced 1987 cartoon of the same name: Politics! That page immediately follows one in which the Tyrannos' armada of red, dinosaur-shaped space ships descend on the capital cities of the Earth, destroying recognizable monuments, Independence Day-style, if you need context.


Justice League #7 (DC) Justice League #1 pencil artist Jim Cheung, who sat out the last five issues, returns to draw the conclusion of Scott Snyder's first arc on the title, which is a less-than-ideal way to schedule artists (Ideally? Cheung and Jorge Jimenez would have alternated arcs, so that Cheung would have drawn all of this one save #5's break, and Jimenez the next arc, or vice versa. But ours is not an ideal world).

It will come as no surprise that the superheroes manage to successfully defeat the supervillains without any major change to the status quo that might upset future exploitation of the relevant IP--that is, Hawkgirl doesn't cave in Luthor's bald head with her wicked-looking mace or anything--and that the two sides in the conflict haven't resolved their core disagreement.

That disagreement has been presented as opposing views of the nature of the universe, whether existence is inherently good and devoted to the pursuit of justice, or whether it is inherently bad and devoted to inevitable doom. It is certainly an interesting extrapolation from the more-or-less random names assigned the two groups of characters long ago, and a different-ish spin on the good guys vs. bad guys engine that powers super-comics.

This may be reading too much into it, it may just be something in Martian Manhunter's phrasing jogging my memories of Catholic school education, but when J'onn wonders aloud whether the League's efforts to stave off doom and preserve the multiverse is actually against the wishes of whoever/whatever is behind creation (that is, God), and if they are therefore all inadvertently doing far more harm than good, I thought of how Catholic/Christian theologies long ago toyed with idea of a sub-god God (Probably named "Yahweh") that ruled over the world of matter, and was given charge of it by the real deal.

Snyder has Batman resolve the issue as pithily as possible, in another of Snyder's ongoing attempts to come up with a Batman line that could be the next "I'm the goddamned Batman".

Ready?
Yeah, that's worth my $3.99 right there.

I suppose the bigger moments are near the end of the issue, which I will now precede to spoil, since they are over a month old now anyway. The second is actually something I'm pretty sure DC spoiled itself months ago in the solicitations: The Batman Who Laughs from Snyder's own Dark Nights: Metal is hanging out with Lex Luthor.

The other was a complete surprise to me. A man with long gray hair wearing Starman Will Payton's costume and clutching Starman Jack Knight's staff appears, saying, "My name...is STARMAN... I come from the past. I have all the answers you seek! But to learn them... Three of you... must die!

Now don't worry. Just before he appears, we see that the League is all gathered and posing in the same room as the members of Justice League Dark and the other heroes who appeared alongside them in issue #1, so the three who must die--or, this being a DC superhero comic in 2018, "die"--will most likely be some of those extras. I volunteer New 52 Animal Man, New 52 Adam Strange and Swamp Thing's beard.


Justice League #8 (DC) Huh. Is it really time for another fill-in issue already? I guess so. At least this one, unlike Justice League #5, comes in a natural break in the narrative, as the new Justice League's first big battle against the new Legion of Doom reached a conclusion of sorts in #7.

As with the last issue to have the "Legion of Doom" logo overwrite the "Justice League" one on the cover, this is being written by James Tynion, only this time the guest-artist is on-again, off-again Batman artist Mikel Janin. Tynion's script allows Janin to draw every member of the cast at least once, thanks to a group shot of the League on a two-page spread, but this is otherwise a fairly talky issue, with a lot of headshots in it.

I suppose it's always interesting to see different artists present their takes on such a large swathe of iconic characters, but I really rather disliked Janin's Cheetah, which you can see on the cover. He seems to have just imported the head of a mountain lion and plopped it atop a fuzzy woman body. I also wasn't terribly impressed by his drawing of Poseidon; it is Poseidon disguised as a human being, of course, so it was basically just an old man with a wizard beard, but having just encountered Phil Jimenez's version of the character in Aquaman By Peter David Book 2, it was something of a disappointment.

This issue opens with the backstory of 1980s Starman Will Payton, who showed up quite unexpectedly at the climax of last issue. Having never read that Starman, and only really seen the character in crossovers and that one issue of Justice League America where he refused to join the League, I have no idea how different his story is here (How old is the Payton Starman? So old that it was before my time, and I'm 41 now). He shouldn't exist at all though, post-Flashpoint, as his appearance here is set at 1988, which would have made him the first superhero by over 40 years in the current continuity (again, I assume that Justice League is set after the conclusion of Doomsday Clock, which will re-reboot or de-reboot the Flashpoint-derived DC Universe, but since Doomsday Clock is just a little over halfway over, DC comics are just gonna read extra confusing as we wait for Gary Frank to fill all those nine-panel grids with Watchmen characters talking to Batman and Superman or whatever the fuck is going on there).

Meanwhile, J'onn J'onnz talks to the League about the stuff they learned from Payton between issues, we see that Batman is now riding around in a full-body cast and what appears to be a futuristic hover chair he borrowed from the Professor Charles Xavier of the '90s, Black Manta and Cheetah go on a mission to kill Poseidon and set-up a crossover event with Aquaman and Luthor has a plot-advancing conversation with The Batman Who Laughs.

I was pretty surprised to see Poseidon here, given how much we saw of him in Brian Azzarello and company's Wonder Woman, where he did not look at all human, but then, I haven't been reading Wonder Woman in a very long time, so I suppose the Olympians were rejiggered quite a bit since then.

The issue is fine, but it's just fine. There's nothing even approaching Batman's "We justice harder" moment from the previous issue.


Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Comic #1 (Dark Horse Comics) The review of this that I was writing in this very space started to stretch on for way too many paragraphs, so I decided to give it its own post, which you can read by clicking here. If you missed that post, and refuse to click the "here" in the previous sentence, I will briefly summarize: Overall, I liked this more than enough to read the rest of the series, and more likely than not any future MST3K comics that Dark Horse produces (MST3K comics being one of, like, three Holy Grail comics I used to wish existed in my teenage years), but I'm not sure this was the best of the three possible directions to go in with them, and if it is the best direction, the three-tiered levels of riffing engagement is definitely a drawback.

All that said though, I think the particular challenges of adapting this particular show into the comics medium are inherently fascinating (regardless of one's affection for the source material), and that the issue is therefore worth a look by anyone interested in comics and how they work compared to other media, just so consider those challenges and see how they are addressed.


Scooby-Doo Team-Up #40 (DC) Yes, this didn't actually come out this month. I somehow missed an issue of the DC comic I have been reading the longest at this particular point, and didn't even notice until I read Scooby-Doo Team-Up #41 and realized that the often imperiled Penelope Pitstop is not, in fact, Swamp Thing.

This might, at first, seem like a particularly strange team-up, given how much of Swamp Thing's publishing history has seen the heroic monster anchoring DC's mature reader imprint, and how so much of his history has been devoted to comics for adults, regardless of which side of the Vertigo/DC Universe line whichever publication he was appearing in may fall.

On the other hand, Swamp Thing is a regular on the current Justice League cartoon (which is, by the way, awesome), and then there was, of course, this, so perhaps they are not so different, Swamp Thing and Scooby-Doo. And then there is, of course, the fact that as a swamp monster, Swamp Thing is perhaps the DC character that Scooby-Doo and the gang would be most likely to run into during their regular mystery-solving adventures. In fact, some of them have already encountered a swamp thing named "Swampthing" (in 1988's Scooby-Doo and The Reluctant Werewolf).

The issue is a pretty perfect example of writer Sholly Fisch's ability to write pretty directly towards two audiences at once, so that there are references--some subtle, some anything but--to Alan Moore and company's seminal run on Swamp Thing, but the basic shape, beats and sense of humor of the book come from the original Scooby-Doo cartoons and are aimed pretty squarely at kids.

The first page is written in the style of Moore's scripts, with lots of colorful narration, a close up on a bird flying in the swamp, an extreme close-up of Shaggy's foot splashing into the mud as he runs, another extreme close-up of his sweaty brow, a panel of Swamp Thing sitting contemplatively at the foot of a tree, and then a long shot of Shaggy and Scooby running in silhouette, while the narration boxes talk of "a terrible exquisite symphony-- --A symphony of fear." (For the record, they heard a bullfrog and took off running in fright.)

On the second page, things return to normal, and we see that Scooby and the gang have come to the swamp to help Shaggy's "Uncle Chester," who appears to be an aging hippie. Now, going to visit relatives--usually aunts and uncles--was traditionally one of the major excuses used in the cartoon shows to explain why the gang was traveling to a remote or exotic location, so there's nothing remarkable about Shaggy having an uncle who lives near a swamp experiencing a wave of voodoo zombies, but Chester is actually a minor Swamp Thing supporting character (introduce by Alan Moore in 1985's Swamp Thing #43). Of course unchanging beatnik/hippie-esque teenager Shaggy would have an aging hippie for an uncle, and this is a neat little Easter Egg meant for...I don't know, maybe just for Mike Sterling...?

Mystery Inc is investigating the swamp's "Voodoo Queen," who has made many of the locals into zombies in order to do yard work and other menial tasks around her house in the swamp. One of the issue's running gags is Shaggy's confusion between the brain-eating, undead zombies of movies and the mindless, enslaved zombies of voodoo ("Or more precisely, 'Vouou'," Velma corrects him). Swampy tries to stay out of sight for a while, aiding them from afar, but when Solomon Grundy shows up, he finally shows himself, and demonstrates a bunch of his more exotic plant powers from Moore's run. Abigail makes a brief appearance, but that's it for anyone from Swamp Thing's supporting cast; maybe they can meet her uncle (who is just alluded to in a joke) and The Un-Men the next time they team-up.

Dario Brizuela draws this issue and does so in his usual style; it's actually pretty fun to see Swamp Thing filtered through it, and there's one neat panel where Brizuela swipes a pose in homage to the character's co-creator Bernie Wrightson (the no doubt familiar-looking pose from 1974's Swamp Thing #9, reused as the cover for several Swamp Thing collections).

This is one issue of the series I would like to return to it at some later point, maybe after re-reading Swamp Thing, as I imagine there may be still more references in it that I just didn't get, because I'm just not the Swamp Thing scholar that, you know, some people are...


Scooby-Doo Team-Up #42 (DC) This is a rather poor cover. Glancing at it, a reader would only see the Mystery Inc gang confronted by two scary gorillas. If the reader spent a few seconds on it, they might notice that the scary gorillas in question are Pryemaul, the rather obscure Nazi vampire gorilla, and the Brotherhood of Evil's Monsieur Mallah, who you might not recognize without his bandolier, but the beret should be a give away.

Now those are both fine gorilla guest-stars, but they are only two gorilla guest-stars. And this issue is chock-full of them, as once again Sholly Fisch has apparently combed DC's character catalog to find every example of a character around a particular theme for an issue of his team-up comic. Here the theme is gorillas--well, apes, as there are a few chimpanzees. And also a cameo by a monkey.

So despite the randomly chosen pair of bad guy gorillas on the cover, the Scooby gang are actually faced with Pryemaul, Monsieur Mallah, The Gorilla Boss of Gotham City, The Mod Gorilla Boss, Gorilla Grodd, The Ultra-Humanite and Titano The Super-Ape! Now normally, any one of them would be more than a match for a Great Dane and four teenagers, but Scooby-Doo has all the heroic apes in his corner. So there's Sam Simeon (of Angel and The Ape fame, who has previously appeared in SDTU), Congorilla and Detective Chimp.

It is, naturally, awesome. I'd give Fisch a high-five for including not one Gorilla Boss, but both, as well as the bit about Pryemaul and Mallah's differing views on World War II. And man, as much as I loved Congorilla being on the Justice League during James Robinson's troubled time on the title, I kind of forgot how awesome the character was and is, especially in his original incarnation, in which Congo Bill and the golden gorilla switch bodies back and forth, so that one has to be in a cage or otherwise occupied all the time.

The exact nature of SDTU generally switches from one of three different modes, depending on the issue, but my favorite of those modes are the ones like this, where in Fisch finds a theme and tries to fit as many DC characters that fit into it within the pages of a single comic.

I hope he does insect-themed characters or Red characters at some point, so we can get a comic featuring the Red Bee...


BORROWED:


All-New Wolverine Vol. 6: Old Woman Laura (Marvel Entertainment) Once again a collection of Tom Taylor's relatively long (but still too short-lived!) series about current Wolverine Laura Kinney borrows the sub-title from the adventures of the previous Wolverine, and as with Enemy of The State II, this has fuck all to do with the earlier story, aside from sharing that sub-title, and maybe the broadest possible overlap. For example, Mark Millar and Steve McNiven's Old Man Logan was set in the future, and Old Woman Laura is also set in the future.

Before "Old Woman Laura" starts, however, we get an almost Laura-less done-in-one starring Gabby Kinney/Honey Badger, Wade Wilson/Deadpool and Jonathan/An Actual Wolverine. Gabby is taking Jonathan, who is still wearing the translator that Rocket gave him that allows him to talk stunted English, for a walk one day when he smells the facility that he originally came from. Rather than calling in Laura, Gabby calls Deadpool, and together they storm the facility...which is apparently devoted to the manufacture of zombie animals. Laura eventually joins them and...well, zombie animals are killed, a mad scientist gets his just desserts, and they burn the place to the ground. This issue, drawn by Failla, would actually be a pretty great place to end the series. But there's two more stories yet to go, another done-in-one and the title arc.

The next done-in-one is drawn by Djibril Morissette-Phan, and is as glum and serious as the previous one was light and fun. This one seems to be an example of the direction the series might have gone in after "Orphans of X," as Laura teams-up with one of said orphans who she had terribly wronged as X-23 in order to bring justice and/or vengeance to the guy who hired the people who made Laura assassinate someone. I felt a little uncomfortable with the last page, which cuts off just as the girls have put on boots and prepare to kick the shit out of their bound and gagged target.

Taylor went out of his way to demonstrate that said target is an amoral monster of a human being throughout, and he's repeatedly referred to as a "Nazi" in the story, but I still feel a little icky watching a superhero torturing a now-helpless villain. I suppose if given the choice, I personally would rather be stomped on and kicked repeatedly and allowed to live rather than being stabbed to death with adamantium claws, but, as a reader, the former seems much, much worse to me than the latter. Of course, in the case of the latter, it would usually occur during some form of self-defense. Even if a bad guy couldn't shoot a Wolverine to death or whatever, if they're making the attempt when they get clawed, it feels more just.

And that brings us to "Old Woman Laura," a three-part arc drawn by the series' regular (if that word counts for anything any more in this context) artist, Ramon Rosanas. This one actually could have been another done-in-one, given that it is mostly superfluous, being the story of a possible future that will never actually come to pass, because possible futures never really arrive in ongoing superhero universes.

So it's sometime in the future, when today's teenagers are all grown-up. Laura now has a white streak in her hair, and has retired from Wolverine-ing, with Gabby now the All-New, All-Different Wolverine (she has a weird haircut, and a terrible Tron-like costume with light-up elements to it). The world is mostly perfect-ish now, from a super-crime perspective, as there is basically just one supervillain left in the whole world, Victor Von Doom. Oh, and Khamala Khan is now president of the United States, because why not?

Laura has found out she has a terminal disease, and wants to do one last thing before she goes: Kill Doctor Doom...and save her long-lost missing "sister" Bellona, who is almost certainly being held captive in Latveria. The plan is to go in alone, but Gabby and Old Woman Maria Hill (who, unlike Laura, seems to have actually aged beyond developing a sytlish white streak in her hair) insist on going along. And then, rather randomly, Captain Marvel and Hawkeye Kate Bishop show up. And another surprise female guest-star, too. Why they are all there is an open question. If Taylor wanted to give Laura a team to run with on this mission, you might expect him to choose characters who have previously appeared in the series and/or have much of anything at all to do with Laura, although perhaps he was purposely avoiding using X-people...? At any rate,  I guess it gives Rosanas the opportunity to draw redesigned versions of more characters (His Carol has gone from blonde to white, and her costume is now the green and white of her namesake, rather than the Superman-style primary colors she's been wearing).

Anyway, they storm Latveria, fight Doctor Doom, there are some twists, and things end completely differently than they usually do in "last" stories like this, which is itself enormously satisfying.

I really liked the Doombots here. They look like Doom, as per usual, but they are very large. Not giant, like Sentinels, but several times larger than your average human. Maybe 12-15-feet tall...?

And that ends All-New Wolverine, the surprisingly, consistently good series that has long been Marvel's best mutant title, and been one of their better ones that isn't Unbeatable Squirrel Girl throughout its 35-issue run, which is actually crazy-long for a Marvel comic these days. Like I feel like the teenage X-Men's book has relaunched two, maybe three times since All-New Wolverine #1...

I'm not particularly looking forward to X-Men Red, where Taylor will continue to write Laura and Gabby, nor to X-23, which will be the successor title to this one, only sans Taylor. I am somewhat curious about both though, particularly why on Earth Laura takes back that particular code name, so I suppose I'll sample both of them. Eventually.

Oh, and as always, don't listen to me when it comes to X-people books, listen to Paul O'Brien.


Batman and The Signal (DC) The other day I was thinking about a new and better code name for Batman's newest sidekick Duke Thomas, who began operating under the name "The Signal," which is just awful.

Despite the title of this trade paperback collection and the fact that the cover is taken from Batman and The Signal #1, that three-issue miniseries only accounts for the back half of the book. Presented before it are all of the Duke-starring back-ups from eight issues of Scott Snyder's short-lived All-Star Batman title--featuring incredible artwork by Declan Shalvey and Francesco Francavilla--and a short from writer Tony Patrick and artist Klaus Janson from DC New Talent Showcase 2017 #1 (one of the rare New Talent Showcase stories that seems to be in continuity). Duke doesn't officially take the name The Signal until the miniseries though, some 75 pages into the book. I think that offers a pretty decent clue that Snyder and DC, like me, were having a really rather hard time imagining what name Duke was going to go by after he was given his costume and began training with Batman in 2016's Batman: Rebirth #1. The back-up stories in this collection even include a few teases as to what on Earth Duke might pick for a superhero name.

The name he ultimately comes up with reflects two different things. First, it refers to the fact that he has recently gained some sort of superpower that allows him to see light in such a way that he can predict the very near future or see what just happened in an area he's looking at in the very recent past; that is, he catches signals (How exactly he got these powers is a little confused, and relates to the final arcs of Snyder's Batman run, as well as the super-metals of Dark Nights: Metal and another factor revealed in the miniseries; I suspect that second source is why this was originally branded as a Metal spin-off, despite seemingly have nothing at all to do with Metal).

And the other relates to the idea that he is supposed to be Gotham City's Batman of the day, working the day shift while all of Gotham's other vigilantes work the night shift. "Signal," he tells Batman, is another name for "The first knight on the battlefield." (It's not the first thing that comes to mind when one hears the word as related to Batman, but it does check out).

I spent some time thinking of the names of all of Batman's other sidekicks and allies over the years, and the most prevalent commonality is names that have something to do with bats and birds. So I found myself wondering if there wasn't a particular bird that is sort of the opposite of the bat, a bird associated with the day time instead of the night time, that presages the coming of the light after a period of darkness.

And then it hit me that yes, yes there is indeed such a bird: The robin.*

Duke is, of course, already somewhat committed to this costume, which gets a slight redesign between the pages of All-Star Batman and the New Talent Showcase short and the miniseries (slight enough that you may have to flip back and forth to see the differences, as I did). I do like the costume, but damn do all those bat design elements limit the character's potential names. If it were blue and black or red and black, Duke could have just gone the obvious route for superhero code names and used that color in his name, becoming The Blue Bat (which is already a thing, albeit an obscure thing) or The Red Bat. As part of the Snyder-written Duke stories from All-Star focused on Batman's color-coded training regime, there was even an opportunity to have Duke change from the yellow costume to a blue or red one, citing the results of his training (If he had gone with The Red Bat, his costume would have made for an interesting admixture of Batman and Robin in one).

Oh well. I have a feeling Duke Thomas is going to be around for a pretty long time, and a name change is more-or-less inevitable at some point.

So the first story here is "The Cursed Wheel," the Snyder-written back-up from the pages of All-Star. The title comes from Batman's training regime for Duke--and, apparently, his other, past sidekicks--and the in-story conflict revolves around first Mr. Zsasz and then The Riddler, working through an intermediary. Shalvey draws the first half, featuring Zsasz (as is now common, the character neither looks nor acts much like the one Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle created, but Shalvey does a nice job on making his skin look like it's almost all scar tissue, and making him a truly repellent-looking villain), while Francavilla draws the second half, where the threat from The Riddler comes to the fore.

While yet to have a superhero name, Snyder rather gradually walks us through how Duke comes to be the day-shift Batman, including questioning his role of being a Robin-in-all-but-name.

Then we pause for the Duke/Red Hood team-up from Patrick, Jung and Janson, in which the two basically just hang out and train together (Thus far, we haven't seen a whole lot of Duke interacting with the rest of the Bat Family since the conclusion of Robin War). Then the miniseries finally begins, with Snyder and Patrick sharing a story credit while Patrick is credited as writer. Cully Hamner draws all of these pages, colored by Laura Martin. So, to review, Declan Shalvey, Francesco Francavilla, Minkyu Jung, Klaus Janson and Cully Hamner--one could hardly ask for a better line up of artists on a Batman character.

I have mixed feelings about the title miniseries. There seem to be confused, conflicting ideas about who Duke is and what his place is going to be, exactly, and I'm not entirely sure it lines-up with the events of "The Cursed Wheel"...not in terms of plotting, but just in terms of resolving Duke's place on the incredibly crowded rooftops of Gotham. I also still don't quite understand his powers, which seems sort of unfortunate given the fact that I just read some 140 pages or so about the guy (or re-read, actually, as the first 100 pages of this I read as they were serially published).

I do think Patrick does a pretty decent job of picking up the baton where Snyder left it at the end of his Batman and All-Star Batman runs, and he seems to know his way around super-comic narration, dialogue and witty banter. There is enough effort put into setting the stage for a Signal series--the title of the mini seems to be mere marketing; it's more like The Signal...guest-starring Batman--that I'm mildly curious why we haven't had an ongoing or at least another miniseries announced yet (I blame the name "The Signal"). Duke's finally got his name, he gets his own personal satellite Bat-cave ("The Hatch," another dumb name, hidden at The Lucius Fox Center where he and the bearded, amnesiac Bruce Wayne used to volunteer), his own supporting cast (Izzy and Riko from We Are Robin, an older cousin who serves as his guardian while his parents are still Joker-ized, a friendly Gotham City police detective who can be his Commissioner Gordon) and even his own villain, who survives and escapes at the end of the comic to return again later.

Duke has recently shown up in the post-Tynion fill-in arc of Detective Comics, and will be part of the new team in Batman and The Outsiders, so perhaps he doesn't need his own ongoing or another miniseries, but the character has got potential, and Patrick and Snyder did a strong job of prepping him for future stories.

We just got to figure out that name situation...


Daredevil: Back In Black Vol. 6--Mayor Fisk (Marvel) Is it weird that writer Charles Soule's run on Daredevil is still bearing the sub-title "Back In Black"--on the spine and in the fine print, if not the covers--even though Daredevil has stopped wearing his black costume, and gone back to his red one...? I suppose Daredevil: Return-ed in Red doesn't flow quite the same way.

Actually, Daredevil does go back to black for a few pages of this collection, as the newly elected Mayor Wilson Fisk has outlawed crime-fighting vigilantes in New York City, and DD realizes that a mostly black costume makes him stand out less than an all-red one.

The parallels between current national politics and the Marvel Universe's NYC politics--in which our heroic point-of-view character can't believe the people of his city would actually vote to elevate a notoriously known criminal to a position of power over them--although I suppose Lex Luthor, Norman Osborn and J. Jonah Jameson have all played that role in similar stories before Trump's hijacking and subjugation of the Republican Party, so it's not like Soule is up to anything brand-new here.

What does seem new is that Matt Murdock is offered a job in the Fisk administration, and that leads to a very Age of Trump dilemma for him: Is it better to serve in a corrupt administration in the hopes of fighting the worst impulses of the executive from within, or to avoid taint that comes from associating with a morally flawed and dangerous administration? Of course, as an extra-legal vigilante superhero with super-hearing, Matt isn't just working with Fisk to be a so-called "adult in the room"; he's actively listening for dirt he can use to bring Fisk down.

It all becomes a rather moot point by the end of the collection though, which ends quite similarly to the way the last one did: The surprise elevation of a Daredevil character to the mayor's office.

Meanwhile, Muse returns, and Fisk and Daredevil both initiate contradictory plans that allow for the appearances of a whole bunch of guest-stars, and echoes the last story in Brian Michael Bendis' short Defenders run.

Stefano Landini draws the first three of the six issues collected herein, while the series' "regular" artist Ron Garney draws the last three. I like Garney's art a lot, particularly on this book, and it's a shame Marvel's publishing schedule makes writer/artists teams almost impossible these days. Landini's art is quite solid, of course, it's just stylistically so different than that of Garney that it feels out of place.

Mike Perkins also contributes a bit of art, drawing an eight-page short written by Christos Gage that appears at the end of this volume, having run as a back-up in Daredevil #600.


Detective Comics Vol. 7: Batmen Eternal (DC) This is the conclusion of writer James Tynion IV's two-year, 47-issue, seven-collection run on Detective Comics, partnered with pencil artist Eddy Barrows and, like, a good half-dozen or so other artists because that is a lot of pages to squeeze into such a short time. The focus of Tynion's run was on Red Robin Tim Drake's "Gotham Knights" program, in which Batman would have Tim and Batwoman Kate Kane lead a sometimes growing, sometimes contracting team of Gotham vigilantes as a sort of Justice League of Gotham (although some--too much?--inspiration seems to have been taken from X-Men comics as well).

The idea itself is solid, and as a long-time Batman fan I like the idea of the characters getting somewhat organized about what to do with the continually growing number of sidekicks and Batman allies, as well as the idea of a book or books that give readers a place to visit them all (This isn't what I would have come up with, of course, nor even the best idea that DC seemed to have on the table before green-lighting Tynion's run).

I was uncomfortable with a few elements of the series pretty much all the way though, and I mean on a conceptual level, not a craft level, as the book was never a good or even consistent-looking comic book.

First and foremost, Tynion's comic was such a love letter to the 1990 Batman comics that I (and, I assume, he) grew up with that it at times it edged up to and threatened to fall over the line of homage and into appropriation. That threat was compounded by the fact that there was so little acknowledgement that it was homaging the comics from the previous generation. Tynion's run owed so much to previous Batman writers Chuck Dixon, Alan Grant and, to a lesser extent, Denny O'Neil and even Geoff Johns, whose Teen Titans run provided a necessary ingredient, that it feels like the credit boxes should have included thank yous to those past creators.

Honestly, if you subtracted Dixon's Ulysses Hadrian Armstrong, Dixon and Tom Lyle's Spoiler, Johns and company's "Titans of Tomorrow" story arc and the dumb, Infinite Crisis lead-in The OMAC Project from Tynion's 'Tec, I'm not sure how much you'd really be left with that was original to Tynion. The Clayface redemption arc, I suppose, and The Victim Syndicate, and perhaps the power struggle over Batwoman Kate Kane's destiny waged by Batman and her father. What Tynion's run amounted to was a bunch of homages and nods to his favorite comics, from Batman: Sword of Azrael to "KnightQuest" to Grant and Norm Breyfogle's Anarky character, that it reads more like a remix of Tynion's comics collection than something new and original.

Secondly, and less importantly, I was uncomfortable with how much of a superhero comic it was, how much hard science fiction it was, compared to, well, compared to those very Batman comics that Tynion seems to have grown up with and enjoyed so much. The SHEILD-like paramilitary group The Colony has helicarriers, Batwing Luke Fox is basically Iron Man with bat-ears on his armor, brains can be hacked, time travel, The Multiverse and Rucka's version of Brother Eye and The OMAC Project come to the fore here. In fact, much of this last volume involves said super-comic, Justice League-like stuff like nano-tech and characters being inspired--for good and ill--by what they see from other dimensions and times. I suspect some of that--Armstrong seeing himself as The General in Dixon's comics, Spoiler and Orphan seeing themselves as Batgirls--is Tynion's way of trying to incorporate specifics he liked about the history of these characters while still attempting to technically adhere to the post-Flashpoint continuity he's stuck with.

Now that it's completed, though, Tynion deserves some credit for how well-plotted the whole thing was. There are relatively few loose threads from the entire run that don't come back into play for the climax--Ra's al Ghul, Zatanna, Anarky, The Victim Syndicate--which resolves the major relationship conflicts between Batman, Tim and Batwoman, and puts many of the characters either back where they were before the book started, or positioned them so that they could quite easily be picked up by whoever decides to write them next.

This volume offered what I would most like out of a book starring the extended Batman family, like the scenes of "Orphan" Cassandra Cain creeping around Wayne Manor or briefly engaging Damian, but too rarely got from 'Tec. Having read this shortly after the Batman and The Signal trade, I found the family meeting in which Batman gathers his closest allies--only one of whom is on the Gotham Knights/Detective Comics team--to help him decide what to do about Batwoman now that she's crossed a line and killed Clayface (don't worry; he lived, but the Bats don't seem to know that yet) ironic. The family includes Tim, Dick/Nightwing, Barbara/Batgirl, Jason/Red Hood and Damian/Robin. Who's missing? Well, poor Duke/Signal, who isn't part of the 'Tec team at all, but apparently not part of the "family" either (When DC's "Rebirth" initiative began, Duke was to be working one-on-one with Batman as his official sidekick, which is why he wasn't on Red Robin and Batwoman's team). In the pages of the Batman and The Signal miniseries, Duke has a recurring dream about sitting down at a dinner table with the extended Bat-family, including all these people, and not feeling like he belonged, nor there being enough room at the table for him.


Star Wars Vol. 8: Mutiny At Mon Cala (Marvel) Here's something I'm fairly certain that Disney, Marvel and IDW probably disagree with me on: There are just way too dang many Star Wars comics on the market. At least, there are far too many for a casual reader to keep up with, and while my interest levels vary widely on the various post-Dark Horse offerings, I do like to keep an eye on those comics as part of my (extremely part-time) job.

While I was unable to keep up with Marvel's stewardship of the license, and even lost track of the two main titles--Star Wars and the already-relaunched-at-least-once Darth Vader book--I suppose a virtue of these comics and their running-in-place narrative is that childhood viewings and re-viewings of the original movies provided me with all I really need to know to make sense of a random Star Wars graphic novel. That is, I know the characters, I know their relationships, I know where they came from (the first Star Wars movie) and where they are going (The Empire Strikes Back and Return of The Jedi).

This eighth volume--which is actually the tenth collection, according to the inside cover reading order guides, because of a couple of unnumbered crossover collections (or, put another way, "because Marvel")--contains Star Wars #44-#49, all written by Kieron Gillen and drawn by Salvador Larroca.

Our rebel heroes are currently engaged in trying to secure a fleet with which to fight against the Empire with (Whew! At least they're not still looking for a new base!), and to do so they turn to the people of Mon Cala, the googly-eyed fish people that Admiral Ackbar is the best-known example of. The book opens with Leia trying to convince the planet's regent ruler Urtya--who looks just like Ackbar, only he's a different color, and wearing fancier clothes and a robe--to join the Rebellion, but Urtya refuses, as he doesn't want his planet and people to have to sacrifice their continued existence for the greater good of the galaxy (To Gillen's credit, he gives both sides of the argument compelling weight; even given the cartoonish evil and goodness of the Star Wars mythos, both the Mon Cala leader and Leia seem about equally right, something crystallized when he asks Leia if she would have joined the rebellion if she knew ahead of time what would be done to her home planet Alderaan).

At an impasse with Urtya, Leia comes up with a different, crazier--but more fun to read!--plan. If the regent ruler won't allow his planet and people to join the Rebellion, maybe the king whose place he's ruling in will. That is one Raddus, a previous ally of the Rebellion's who the empire had previously taken prisoner and stashed in some super-secret top security prison somewhere in the Galaxy. Leia's radical plan is to kidnap the Empire's governor--okay, "Grand Moff"--of that sector, take him to the prison, force him to release Raddus, and have Raddus rally his people to the Rebellion.

From there on in, it is basically a heist narrative, which I am 100% a-ok with. One of the most remarkable attributes of those first Star Wars movies, and one of the reasons that the franchise continues to exist and prove as fascinating to generation after generation, is the way in which George Lucas and company subsumed so many other film genres into their space fantasy one, synthesizing it into something cohesive. Regardless of the roller coaster-ing quality levels, one of the film series' greatest achievements (and thus that of all its multimedia spin-offs) is that "Star Wars" itself became a genre of its own, and different, discrete stories could lean into other genres pretty heavily without ever feeling like they are straying too far away form first principles.

So sure: Star Wars heist.

To accomplish this mission, Leia and company first break out a shape-changing actor from prison, and hire him to play the Grand Moff they want to kidnap, so no one will know he's missing. That requires disguises, slipping the target a mickey to force him to go to the bathroom at a certain time (Hey, just like Ocean's 8!), distracting everyone at a fancy space opera party (I think the particular performance is of the same medium as whatever that dumb thing that Palpatine and Anakin attended on Coruscant was...?), speeding to the black site space prison, freeing Raddus and then getting back to the party in time to extract those there. Despite the relatively low stakes--that is, we know nothing too bad is going to happen to any of the main characters--and the fixed nature of the mega-plot, this is actually kind of exciting in the tense way that heist movies are.

The shape-changer is a fun character, and with C3-P0 at his side, the is forced into an extremely elaborate time-stalling action, giving Threepio a fairly sizable role in this story arc. Gillen actually does a pretty fair job of spreading the spotlight around here. Leis is definitely the main character in this one, as she's the one doing all the plotting, giving the orders and getting the most emotional scenes (if this were a film, she would get top billing), but Luke still gets a heroic action scene and Han gets some funny business with Chewie (The best bit involves him posing as a bathroom attendant; when an Imperial officer seems satisfied with his explanation and nods to Chewbacca, Han improvises: "It's a new thing, Sir. You--er--dry your hands on a Wookie. It's very fashionable.")

As I know I've said many times before, I'm not really a fan of Larroca's artwork, which is so heavily photo-referenced it can read like a poorly-choreographed film starring wax dummies. His previous Star Wars work on the initial Darth Vader title worked fairly well, given that the lead character's face was a frozen, expressionless mask, and the creepy soullessness of Larocca's style worked to the character's advantage (it was only when human beings interacted with Vader that the weakness was revealed, but, for the most part, those had the advantage of not being meant to be the faces of familiar actors).

Here though, Larrocca is drawing a late-seventies, early-eighties version of Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford and Mark Hammil on, like, every single page. And he's clearly drawing those actors from that time, not their characters, and the result is--to me at least--extremely unsettling. He does seem to have put some effort in finding film stills in which the actors are making particular faces that are appropriate for the scenes, but that isn't 100% successful, and even when it is, one finds oneself trying to match the source of the swipe to the film. There's just a weird, uncanny valley effect going on here that I hate; I think Larroca's Star Wars art would be fine for covers, but I really hate it for sequential scenes involving any one of those three and, as I said, Leia is the main protagonist here, which means we get a lot of Larroca's Fisher in heavy make-up, emoting like a glitching hologram for pages at a time.

That said, despite my personal distaste for Larroca's style, the script here is solid enough that I couldn't put this particular Star Wars collection down until I had finished it, and I felt more excited about these characters and their adventures while reading than I had in a fairly long time.


Venom & X-Men: Poison-X (Marvel) Pairing Venom, the street-level Spider-Man villain-turned-anti-hero with a sentient alien for a costume, and the time-lost original X-Men, the teenage mutant superhero team that founded a generation's worth of mutant strike forces, together for an adventure is so counter-intuitive that I actually spent some time trying to puzzle out why this particular comic even existed. The characters are, of course, completely different, and move in such completely different circles that, to my knowledge, they have never really ever intersected. And unlike, say, The Punisher and Doctor Strange, these characters aren't so different that their sharing a team-up book becomes appealing because of how they clash, but rather they just don't seem to connect in any way other than the fact that they are all Marvel Comics characters.

Eventually, the obvious answer as to why this crossover exists at all hit me: Cullen Bunn writes both X-Men: Blue, the X-Men book currently starring the teenage versions of the founding five, and the current Venom ongoing series. And that is what the characters have in common, they are being written by the same guy, and thus they are going to share a storyline, no matter how awkward and forced it might seem (In that respect, I guess it's a little like Greg Pak's Totally Awesome Hulk/Weapon X crossover, or Peter David's Supergirl appearing early in his Young Justice run, to grab the first two examples that came to mind, despite the fact that one is from 2017 and the other from, um, 1999).

And it is awkward and forced. Even if we've figured out why "Poison-X" was created behind the scenes, Bunn still has to figure out a way to make it happen and make it convincing in the book. He certainly accomplishes the former. Venom's symbiote costume is an alien from outer space--a Klyntar, to be exact--and one of the X-Men's dads lives in outer space, and that's apparently good enough for a 110-page crossover story that sprawled over two issues of X-Men: Blue and Venom, after kicking off in an X-Men: Blue Annual.

Cyclops Scott Summers is face-timing his dad Corsair and The Starjammers when they are attacked by bounty hunters outfitted with their own Venoms, er, Klyntar. Corsair has just enough time to shout coordinates before Scott gets a glimpse of the attacker hanging up the space phone, and it apparently looks just enough like Venom that Scott, Jean and their team head to New York City to ask current Venom-wearer Eddie Brock for his help on a space rescue mission.

Brock naturally refuses even after hearing them out, but his suit/symbiote/Venom is interested in helping its people out. The X-Men don't take no for an answer though, and so there's a perfunctory fight won by Jean's super-psychic powers, and so Venom is shanghaied and going into space with the founding five, riding a blackbird converted by Danger into a spaceship, I guess...? (It occurs to me that this crossover would have made a lot more sense if Flash Thompson was still Venom, as he was a Guardian of The Galaxy for a while, and space and rescue missions were really more his sort of thing than Eddie's).

The team makes straight for Mos Eisely, get attacked by the bounty hunters--these all wear differently-colored symbiotes, and thus don't really look like a team of space Venoms. Eventually the good guys find the arms dealer that's been supplying the bad guys and others with captive Kylntar to use as super-suits, and the five X-Men each get their own symbiotes and give chase to the fleeing bad guys in order to rescue the Starjammers.

And that's pretty much the whole story.

I'm sure I've mentioned before that I kinda like the idea of the Venom symbiote being passed around so we can see how different artists might draw particular Marvel characters "Venomized"--that was the sole reason I read Venomverse for example, which featured Venomized Rocket Raccoon, Captain America, Ant-Man and others on its covers--but the X-Men ones are a little on the disappointing side. They are all differently colored, which makes them easier to tell apart, but, well don't exactly lead to very Venomy designs. The Beast and Angel versions look the coolest, although Beast having fur seems weird, given that the symbiotes always give their wearers a slppery, oil slick-like look, but the others are kind of weird. Cyclops apparently shoots lasers from wherever in his symbiote, for example, and nothing at all seems different with Iceman or Jean, other than their look, when they are wearing super-parasites. Additionally, they all seem like themselves throughout, which makes me wonder if the Kylntar suit that Spider-Man and Eddie and others have worn was just an asshole of a Klyntar, rather than there being something inherent in the symbiotes that make humans (and mutants) crueler or more violent.

The other reason this crossover exists is to serve as a bridge between Bunn's Venomverse and the upcoming Venomized. The Poison's, the Venom-eating villains of Venomverse that were shown breaking into the 616 universe at the end of that series, appear about halfway through this series, looking to find all the Kylntar they can. By the climax, they fight Venom and the Klyntar-wearing X-Men, and one of the X-Men gets transformed into a Poison, which, we have previously learned, means death; said X-Men is then left floating in dead space. That's...kind of a big deal, really, except it happened in an issue of Venom, and I'm not sure anyone thought, even for a second, that a founding X-Men character would get killed off in an issue of Venom. (The fates of the time-lost X-Men are particularly no-stakes too, as they are all essentially "spares"; with dead Jean Grey back to life, Cyclops is now the only one of the teenage X-Men not co-existing in a world with an adult counterpart).

The art is, necessarily, by committee, with five different artists involved, and passing the drawing baton every 20-30 pages. It's mostly consistent-ish, and none of the artists are bad, but the story never manages to settle on a look, because it can't. The covers, by Arthur Adams, the Arthur Adams-ish Nick Bradshaw and Will Robson are all pretty great, though, and made me wish Bradshaw were drawing the whole story.

Aside from the cloud of pointlessness that hung over the story and the lack of consistent art, it didn't read all that poorly, but then, I read a collection I borrowed from the library. I imagine it might have proven much, much more irritating to readers of X-Men: Blue, who found themselves having to read two $3.99 issues of Venom, and more irritating still to readers of Venom, who found themselves having to read two $3.99 issues of X-Men: Blue and a $4.99 annual.


REVIEWED:


Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba Vol. 1 (Viz Media) Here. This is a well-made, perfectly okay comic that I'd recommend to those who like these sorts of comics, but it's certainly not worth going out of one's way to read.


Marvel 2-in-One Vol. 1: The Fate of The Four (Marvel) Here. Okay, yes, the title of this series is fucking ridiculous, and one imagines only used at all to preserve a copyright or something, like to keep DC Comics to re-titling their Shazam book Marvel 2-in-One or to head off a revival of the M.F. Enterprises Captain Marvel in a new team-up title or something. But never mind that. Like all of Chip Zdarsky's previous Marvel writing, this is really rather good, so much so that one almost wonders why Marvel didn't just have him revive the The Fantastic Four book, although perhaps his resume isn't as appealing as Dan Slott's is to the largest amount of Marvel Comics readers at this point...? I don't know why Marvel makes the decisions it does.

Oh, this also has a panel in which Hercules fights Hydro-Man, shouting, "Fight me as a solid, you vainglorious puddle!" Not the kind of thing discerning super-comics readers will want to miss.


Ocean Renegades (Amulet Books) Here. This is the sequel to Howard's Dinosaur Empire book from last year. Or the next book in her "Earth Before Us" series. It is, like Dinosaur Empire, really great, and, if you liked that one, you will like this one...despite the relative lack of dinosaurs in it.


Trees: Kings of the Forest (First Second) Here.  This didn't blow my mind or make me look at trees in a completely different way like Peter Wohllenben's prose book The Hidden Life of Trees did--although Wohllenben's book was one of the sources that cartoonist Andy Hirsch cited in this comic--but, on the other hand, the images in Trees are much, much more charming than the few that appear in The Hidden Life of Trees, so there's that.


AND AS LONG AS I AM LINKING TO STUFF:


Archie Meets Batman '66 (Archie) I interviewed co-writers Jeff Parker and Michael Moreci and pencil artist Dan Parent about the best Batman crossover in a long time for Good Comics For Kids. You can read it here.



*It's hard to pick a beginning point and an ending point, as this was the era of big, Batman line-wide crossovers, but I'm going to say anywhere between 1993 and 1998 or so is pretty okay, with #682-#718 consisting mostly of Batman and Robin fighting crime in Gotham City together in shorter story arcs. That was from the "Prodigal" ending "Troika" through the start of "No Man's Land" or so. The Captain Fear arc one was my favorites, and looking back, I think I actually missed quite a few of these individual issues. 

*The other obvious choice is, of course, the rooster. Which doesn't lend itself to a superhero costume or code name, although it's been tried.