Friday, January 12, 2018

Comic Shop Comics: January 10th

Archie #27 (Archie Comics) The ending of this issue threw me for something of a loop, as it really seemed like Mark Waid was winding down his run on the book, the scene referring back to the very first issue and the very first story arc. Archie speaks directly to the reader as if he was finishing up a story he has been telling them this whole time. The epilogue, marked "prologue" and featuring five panels of Reggie and his dad and referring back to the Blossom twins sub-plot, did little to assuage my concern, but a little Googling revealed that Waid will still be around a few more months. So I don't know exactly why this particular issue read like a summation of his run, although I suppose the fact that it did and it alarmed me so much because of that is a pretty decent indication of how high-quality the book remains.

There is, for example, a sequence in which a mopey Archie trudges home, and there's just some great visual comedy involving some kids and kites that Waid and artist Audrey Mok pull off just perfectly.

This issue reveals how both Archie and Betty respond to the ultimatums put to them by Veronica and Dilton, which means a change of status quo for the book, and the evolution of some key relationships. All of the bits abut Archie having trouble choosing offer some nice, sly meta-commentary on the history of Archie Comics but, as always, the book functions perfectly well if it is the first and only exposure you have to the publisher's wares.

And man, how about that Mok cover, huh?

Damn, that is a nice looking comic book cover...


Hawkeye: Kate Bishop Vol. 1--Anchor Points (Marvel Entertainment) I actually feel actively guilty about waiting until after this volume of Marvel's Hawkeye series--the third relaunch since Matt Fraction and David Aja's influential 2012-2015 book?!--was canceled before buying this collection and, perhaps more importantly, talking about and recommending it. I finally picked it up on that shop this Wednesday because it was such a damn light week, and Meredith had loudly declared multiple times that day that Hawkeye was her favorite book and that Hawkeye is the best.

It is pretty good.

I had lost track of Team Hawkguy due to standard modern Marvel shenanigans--I dropped the monthly when they randomly increased the price by 33%, the relaunches made it seem too onerous to figure out which trades to read in what order--but at the start of this trade, writer Kelly Thompson seems to have former-Young Avenger Kate Bishop right where Fraction left her when his volume of Hawkeye was alternating issues between Kate and Clint. She's living on the West Coast, and trying to make a go of being a private investigator/superhero (Now, in a perhaps good example of Marvel's own publishing policies leading to poor sales and, in this case, the premature cancellation of an excellent comic book, Hawkeye was for a time one of three comic book series featuring female private investigator/superheroes; Spider-Woman has already been canceled, and Jessica Jones is the last one around.)

This trade, featuring the first six issues of the series, is divided into two stories. The first, a four-issue arc, finds Kate struggling with her new-ish  PI business "Hawkeye Investigations," but making friends awfully quickly, to the point where she has a whole team in place by the end of the arc. The case involves online harassment, but with a Marvel Universe twist, meaning there is a cult, mind-control and a super-powered villain involved. The plot isn't the interesting part, though. Thompson makes Kate herself the interesting part. The character is smart, quick and funny, and which makes her a lot of fun to hang around/read about.

In the second story, a two-issue team-up with Jessica Jones--fueling some of the speculation that Thompson will be the writer who takes over Jessica Jones after Bendis' last issue of it ships*--has Kate trying to absorb every lesson she can from her mentor-figure, while the pair work a case involving a girl who has suddenly become beautiful but also occasionally turns into a dragon (The mystery of that is compelling, even if the solution is the solution to, like, everything in the Marvel Universe of late--she's an Inhuman, obviously).

Leonardo Romero draws the first four issues, while Michael Walsh draws the final two in this volume. Both have a very nice, classy, even elegant style that is perfectly suited for crime comics...or something at least adjacent, as Hawkeye is. There is a weird glitch near the end of Walsh's sixth issue, where it looks like a panel or two were scanned weird or something, as Jessica Jones all of a sudden looks weird, elongated and thin, but otherwise, this is a beautifully drawn comic. (The Julian Tedesco covers, all of which homage classic, trashy detective paperback novels with their painted covers, are a great touch too).

Which brings us to the unfortunate thing about Hawkeye. It has a cool, compelling character as its protagonist. The writing is excellent, both on an issue-by-issue (heck, panel-by-panel) basis, in addition to on an arc-by-arc basis. The art, inside and out, main artist and guest/fill-in artist, is excellent. And yet they canceled the dang thing. Why? "Market forces," I imagine, although remember that Marvel is responsible in a large part for those market forces, and it seems pretty obvious--even to a no-nothing outsider like me!--that the publisher's habit of flooding the market isn't helping. As I said, this was one of three books with similar premises until recently. It was also one of multiple books starring a super-archer who is fond of the color purple named "Hawkeye." If a Marvel reader gets all the Star Wars, Avengers, X-Men and Spider- books they want and still have some money left over, well, then they have a lot to choose from and, by almost any criteria you can imagine, Hawkeye had stiff competition, provided by Marvel itself.

Anyway, this first trade is excellent, and you should read it. The second volume just came out recently. And I imagine there will be three altogether.



Justice League #34 (DC Comics) This is, of course, the first issue of Christopher Priest's run on Justice League, and it's probably some six weeks old at this point. As previously mentioned, I completely missed it on the stands, and only realized Priest's run had already started when I happened to notice his name on the cover of Justice League #35 a few weeks ago (And then my shop sold out of #36, so I just missed that one...Yes, I suppose I should have just waited for the trade at this point..

So Priest and artist Pete Woods, a very good creative team, particularly for this poor, put-upon book/franchise, launch their run with a sort of day-in-the-life story, in which the world's greatest heroes are simultaneously faced with a trio of typical Justice League scenarios: Alien invasion, natural disaster and a terrorist group hostage situation. The team splits up to deal with each, with Batman acting as leader, telling who to go where.

The actual story starts when Priest diverges from the expected, with one of the scenarios turning out to be something entirely different, Batman missing something (based, this issues suggests, on sleep deprivation), and a few fairly innocuous events screwing up the hostage situation disastrously.

It seems like a pretty good kick-off. It's early, I know, but I like that Priest is approaching the characters not unlike Morrison did, as fairly remote, hyper-competent professionals, for whom saving the world is little different than your average office job (this doesn't quite jibe with this being a much younger Justice League with fairly few years of working together with one another, but, well, the further we get from the reboot, the more and more DC's creators seem to be willing to ignore it, and revert to elements of pre-Flashpoint continuity).

There's also a pretty well executed scene where we see Bruce Wayne walk from his bedroom into his closet and appear in the Justice League satellite (I don't know if he keeps his transporter up there now, or...actually, I don't know how the JLA teleportation works anymore. They don't seem to use the tubes, or the Authority doors that Brad Meltzer had given them). He appears there without his costume, and dresses on the satellite... maybe the whole League knows his secret identity? Arrgh, I hate the reboot and its fluid, non-existent continuity!

Anyway, it's a nice take, there are some nice touches and the art is great. I haven't been this excited about a Justice League comic since...Well, let's just say it's been a really damn long time. I hope they keep Priest around for a while, and this doesn't end up as a place-holding run until Brian Michael Bendis presents a "JLA Disassembled" story arc...

Venomverse (Marvel) Cullen Bunn, the writer of Monsters Unleashed, delivers another miniseries with a premise that is as appealing as it is simple. Kinda sorta inspired by Marvel's previous "Spider-Verse" event series, in which various Spider-Men from different, alternate dimensions all teamed up for a big adventure, Venomverse features various Venoms from different, alternate dimensions all teamed up for a big adventure. The difference here is that the vast majority of these Venoms are simply Venomized versions of different Marvel characters.

The appeal should be apparent; a glance at Nick Bradshaw's cover featuring a Venomized Rocket Raccoon, Ant-Man (in front of OG Venom's right leg) and Captain America should tell you if this is for you or not. Do you think that image is cool? Then you might like this comic. If you don't, then you can easily skip this.

Interest in 1992's What If #44, the "What If...The Venom Possessed The Punisher?" story (truly one of the more '90s of the '90s stories) would seem to indicate that there are more than enough of us suckers to make a book like this an at least somewhat modest hit (I know I have tried, and likely failed, to articulate this on the blog before, but I am really interested in seeing super-comics characters with very recognizable and/or iconic costume having those costumes temporarily altered in some way...for example, the various Blackest Night related Green Lantern stories, where different DC characters would get their hands on rings and their costumes instantly redesigned were pretty appealing to me. Such redesigns give me some sort of visual thrill in a particular part of the comics-liking part of my brain. This definitely qualifies.)

The story Bunn has crafted to go along with the gimmick is...well, let's be kind and call it sufficient. "Our" Venom Eddie Brock--it was Flash Thompson and he was in space the last time I saw him, but then, it's easy to lose track of these things--is going about his Venom-ing in NYC one night when he finds himself transported to a ruined city full of Venomized versions of other Marvel characters. Among the small band of survivors, there's a Spider-Man, a Mary Jane, a Deadpool, a Wolverine Laura Kinney, and Old Man Logan (weirdly; the Venoms that have appeared here track so closely with those in the modern Marvel Universe, one wonders why they were chosen, and why that Punisher version isn't included). Their presence is mostly due to a Venomized Doctor Strange, who has been magic-ing reinforcements to their aid, in a fight against "The Poisons."

What's a Poison? Well, they start out as little white creatures that look like carnivorous flowers balanced upon stick figures made out of blades. When they eat a Venom, they turn it into a Poison, a stronger, mostly white new kind of symbiote, with chitinous armor and bug-like digits.

And that is pretty much all there is to it. There are some twists that were no doubt exciting to engaged readers of the serially-published single issues, like the introduction of an unexpected Venom-adjacent character and the Venomzied Deadpool serving as something of a triple-agent, counting on his insanity being enough to confound his new symbiote thingee enough to make a difference, but the story is basically just something to hang the premise on, rather than vice versa.

Though Bradshaw draws the covers, the interior art is provided by Iban Coello, with colors by Matt Yackey. His characters are all big and muscled and expressive, and it reminded me a bit of Paul Pelletier's work, but not so much so that I would confuse his art for Pelletier's. The story-telling is spot-on, although it should be said that story-telling is mainly a matter of action and occasional conversation; the heavy-lifting in the art is in the design, and the way the various, Venomized characters looks and work. Most of them look pretty cool--I don't much care for the way the symbiote interacts with Logan's hair, for example, but, again, I'm not really sure what the hell Old Man Logan is even doing here--and that really seems to be the point of the series anyway.

That, and it gave Marvel an excuse--not that they needed one--to do a whole month of Venomized variant covers.



*Which I would be totally okay with. I noticed while reading this that it is an extremely verbal comic, as Alias/Jessica Jones was/is, but, at least as she demonstrates here, Thompson's variety of verbal is more breezy and chatty than wordy and tiresome. That is, she writes a lot of words, here characters say a lot of words, but the words never feel unnecessary, nor are they such in number that they overpower the art, making the imagery seem superfluous. In that respect, she may be an improvement over Jessica Jones' own creator. We'll see who ends up taking over. Having just read a Jessica Jones collection, I'm personally hoping the new artist is someone who draws nothing at all like Michael Gaydos.

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