Thursday, February 22, 2018

Comic Shop Comics: February 21st

Ant Wars (Rebellion) It wasn't just the simply, grabby title and that cover image that sold me on this trade paperback collection. I also flipped through it to see its providence--the title story is apparently a 1978 one from 2000 A.D.--and to make sure the art inside was at least as good as it was on the cover. It was, if not much better. (And black and white, obviously.)

The story, written by Gerry Finley-Day and primarily featuring artwork by Jose Luis Ferrer and Alfonso Azpiri, who gradually start trading chapters/"Progs" back and forth, is about a test of  an American-made experimental insecticide that has the unlikely--but dramatic!--effect of turning ordinary jungle ants into super-intelligent giants.

Our heroes are Brazilian military lieutenant Villa and "Anteater," a "semi-civilised Indian" who was abducted by the soldiers and put in an education camp of some sort. The pair are the only survivors of the first contact with the ants, and begin an epic, harrowing journey through South America, giant ants chasing them, and no one they race to believing them until the ants are upon them too.

Villa, like his short-lived men, shows a casual, contemptuous racism toward "Anteater"--so named because he and his people were first seen eating regularly-sized ants straight from a regularly-sized ant hill--which the story only rather clumsily addresses, by showing how much better at jungle survival and ant-fighting that Anteater is than Villa and, like, everyone they encounter. Gradually, Villa sees him as his only ally.

The story reaches a too-early climax in a battle for Rio, and then goes on several more chapters, as other ant eggs are discovered. The ending is unpredictable and ironic though, and lives up to the title in a surprising way.

Also included is "Zancudo," a short story written by Simon Spurrier and Cam Kennedy, set in the world of Judge Dredd (It's from a few 2005 issues of Judge Dredd Megazine). That it is set in 2127 and involves judges is at first only apparent from the slang and weapons used. Two judges are transporting a psychic villain, when their ship is down by a race of giant, intelligent mosquitoes. It eventually shows its connection to Ant Wars, when ants that have survived from that much-earlier story are involved in the climactic showdown against the mosquitoes and their people.

The Archies #5 (Archie Comics) Despite being a fan of much of the "New Riverdale" line of Archie Comics, I have yet to read a single issue of The Archies, the Alex Segura and Matthew Rosenberg-written, Joe Eisma-drawn ongoing about the band consisting of the core Archie characters.

I am, however, quite a fan of Tegan and Sara, so this issue not only seemed like a good time to try out the book, but was a comic I've really been looking forward to since, well, since it was announced, really.

The story? The squabbling Archies reach a crisis point when Jughead quits, just as they enter the Canadian leg of their tour. They are set to open for Tegan and Sara--well, actually, they are opening for the band that is opening for Tegan and Sara--but can they really continue without their drummer and, according to this issue, the only really talented member of the band...?

Don't worry; everything works out okay for them. There's a point in here about the value of playing for fun and being in a band as a means to simply hang out with your friends versus playing in a band to be rich and famous and adored, too.

Tegan and Sara have pretty minor roles, really. I liked the fact that so much of their dialogue involved the two of them saying the same thing at the same time, and/or one of them finishing the others' sentences. I don't think that's how they talk in real life--I've only seen them live once--but it conforms to my pop culture understanding of twins.

And they do at least  namedrop their cats, Holiday and Mickey.
While I am a fan of Tegan and Sara's music, I am also a huge fan of Holiday and Mickey's social media presence. They have the weird habit of sitting like human beings, and even sort of transforming their own bodies into fluffy bean bag chairs and then collapsing into themselves, like they are their own chairs that they are sitting in...?

If you like cat videos on the Internet--and who doesn't?--I would definitely suggest following Tegan and Sara on Instagram and watching their stories, like, daily.

So this was fun, but it wasn't my ideal Tegan and Sara comic from Archie Comics. That would probably have a lot more Tegan and Sara, and a lot less of The Archies. (Oh, by the way, I hate the way Joe Eisma draws Jughead's nose. The art is pretty great, but man, I do so hate his Jughead nose).

My local comic shop only had one issue left on the rack at 5:15 p.m. Wednesday--hopefully because crowds of fans bought the other 128 copies they had ordered, and not simply because they only ordered one rack copy--so I had no choice but the above cover.

The other two are pretty great:

I think I like the Thomas Pitilli one best, with Tegan and Sara wearing Betty and Veronica t shirts. The Joe Eisma one, with Hotdog in the lower left hand corner, is pretty good too. Not sure why Eisma didn't draw Mickey and Holiday sitting like weird old men next to Hotdog, though...

Batman #41 (DC Comics) I've grown pretty tired of Poison Ivy, who is one of the many, many Batman villains who has been badly overused in the past few years, in large part because not only has she appeared in the half-dozen various Bat-books regularly, but she's also been used so often in Harley Quinn and was even on the New 52 Birds of Prey line-up for a time (I know it doesn't make much sense to create and hand over new IP to DC, but writers really need to start making up new villains again). So I was pretty much the opposite of excited when cracking open the cover of this issue, which contains the first chapter of the story arc "Everyone Loves Ivy."

The main innovation writer Tom King brings to this Poison Ivy story is simply one of scale. Somehow--she mentions The Green, and she does appear to Batman and Catwoman in their dreams--she has taken over every single person on Earth, including superheroes and supervillains (she uses The Flash in an unexpectedly amusing way near the cimax). Wait, I said person, right? I guess I should say "sentient being," as there's a big, two-page montage in which various people all over the world say "I love you, too" aloud to her--Superman, Wonder Woman, Donald Trump--and one of those pictured appears to be a super-intelligent talking gorilla from Gorilla City.

And that's basically this issue. Event-wise, not a whole hell of a lot happens, I guess, but King is again paired with Mikel Janin, who is pretty great at visual storytelling, and thus there's a great deal of showing instead of just telling, that showing being quite elegantly, dramatically executed. I did like the trick of the lettering, too, in which Alfred's dialogue, when it is Ivy speaking through him, appears in green ink, rather than black.

When we are shown the real Ivy, she's wearing her New 52 body-stocking costume, which is a pretty uninspired look in general, particularly compared to, like, every other costume Poison Ivy has ever worn ever.

Oh, and maybe the oddest bi of the entire comic? Ivy-through-Alfred recaps the plot of a 1980s John Byrne Superman comic. What is particularly odd about it is that the month after he accidentally rewrote a 2000 Superman comic he had apparently never read or heard of, he references a far older Superman comic. Weird.

Anyway, this story was very not something I was at all interested in, but turned out to be very good, and the last page, in which Batman continually, curtly expressed what a loss he was at, made me pretty interested in the next issue. So good job, King and Janin.

Bombshells United #12 (DC) Oh. So it turns out that this book is going to be canceled; the just-released solicitation for a May issue says it is the beginning of the final arc. I suppose I need not bother dropping the book after all, then. I can stick around for two more arcs just for the satisfaction of having read the entire series and its longer-running predecessor series, DC Comics Bombshells.

Artist Sandy Jarrell joins writer Marguerite Bennett for this issue, which concludes the current arc involving Batwoman and Renee Montoya in a hidden labyrinth beneath Barcelona, where they are battling Black Adam over the control of Talia al Ghul's Lazarus Pit. The three-page sequence involving the resolution of that battle and Miri Marvel's role in it is pretty elegantly portrayed...and absolutely nothing like the more typically super-comics imagery of the cover.

Justice League #39 (DC) I liked Paul Pelletier's cover art there, but noting even remotely like that happens within the pages of the comic itself. Nor does Pelletier draw the interior of the comic. That is drawn by Ian Churchill, handling both pencils and inks while Alex Sollazzo colors, and it is by far the best Churchill art I've seen, although it's been a long, long time since I've seen Churchill's work (it was something I tried to avoid for a while there).

This is the first part of a new arc--"Justice Lost"--although it's really continuing the same story that writer Christopher Priest started with issue #34. The public is seemingly turning on the League, and they are being radically defended by a challenging new enemy they call The Fan, who proves to be a master of disguise able to impersonate any of the Leaguers to a pretty successful degree (although, given that he is a fan, maybe he's not a master of disguise so much as a master of cosplay...?).

Aquaman meets The Fan in the desert, while new chairman Cyborg has to deal with the public relations of the League, while the League team's up with the quirkier, poorly written Justice League of America to deal with a potentially deadly train accident. Their actions spark racial tensions, as they all swoop in to save the wealthier, whiter neighborhood, while seemingly ignoring the poorer, blacker neighborhood.

Priest does a thing I hate in comics, as he uses images of tweets to drive the narrative at a few points (this is the modern equivalent of Frank Miller's TV talking heads from The Dark Knight Returns), and something which is pretty unnecessary here, given that a character directly speaks to Cyborg and states the tension delineated in the tweets directly through dialogue.

That and the weird continuity are the only real downsides. There's a reference to the League's moonbase, which was excised during Flashpoint, and Cyborg is called a "newbie" at one point, even though he founded the League and his superhero career is, like, a few months shorter than that of the other Leaguers (and actually far longer than that of the two Lanterns). At the same time, there's talk of him being the first black chairman of the League, which might be true; certainly, in the post-Flashpoint Justice League, he's been the only black person on the Justice League, but if we're counting pre-Flashpoint continuity, well, there have been a decent number of black superheroes in various League line-ups. As to chairs, well, I don't recally there even being chairpeople post-Crisis.

Anyway, as I said before, continuity helps sell drama like this, as if there are no rules and no history, then saying something is happening for the first time, or is somehow unusual, doesn't have the same impact if its something the readers already know for themselves.

Nightwing #39 (DC) Nightwing is still battling The Judge in writer Sam Humphries' "Untouchable" story arc, but this particular chapter features another flashback to a previous encounter with The Judge. As with the previous flashback-centric chapter, a guest artist is enlisted to draw that flashback, and that artist is long-time Titans fan and artist Phil Jimenez. While The Judge has Nightwing in a pretty typical supervillain death trap--he's chained to a chair in a room slowly filling with water--he reveals his secret origin to Nightwing, while Nightwing remembers their second encounter.

This occurred when Dick Grayson was no longer Robin, but not yet Nightwing. He was at Hudson University then, but had decided to take a semester at Bludhaven College Law School. Please don't pause to consider how that fits into the post-Flashpoint continuity, given that in less than five years, Dick Grayson became Robin, stopped being Robin and then had already become Nightwing, been Batman for a while and went back to being Nightwing. I guess he squeezed at least a few semesters of college in there too, somewhere between quitting being Robin and becoming Nightwing...? Worse yet, don't consider the other continuity alluded too here, wherein a teenage Jason Todd texts him from Wayne Manor. He also seems to have had all of his Teen Titans friends, including New Teen Titans friends like Starfire, although I think Titans history has been in flux to some degree since DC Universe: Rebirth. I tried a few issues of Titans, but couldn't stand the art long enough to stick with it.

When there's a weird murder at his new college, Dick puts on a domino mask and workout clothes that look an awful lot like his original, George Perez-designed costume, and leaps into action. I am and always have been a big fan of Jimenez's work, and although it seems to have gotten a little softer in its line work recently, likely do to the increasing prevalence of computers in the production of comics art, it's still pretty great looking, and Jimenez' Dick Grayson always look a lot more like "himself" than when other artists are drawing him, if that makes any sense at all (Probably not, I know).

1 comment:

Jacob T. Levy said...

“As to chairs, well, I don't recally there even being chairpeople post-Crisis”

J’onn and Captain Atom led the JLI and JLE respectively, for the most part, until the Giffen era ended in Breakdowns. Then Superman and Hal Jordan started off leading the two branches, though Superman died soon thereafter. In the terrible years, J’onn led JLTF, Captain Atom led EXTREEEEM JUSTICE, and Wonder Woman led the satellite group.

Black Canary was chair for a bit of the terrible One Year Later League.

I think it was only Morrison’s JLA that left it slightly vague— usually with some sense of a governing committee of Superman, Batman, and someone else (sometimes J’onn, sometimes Aquaman). And there was that one scene in Teen Titans when the Titans disagreed about who led the League: “Batman.” “Superman.” “Martian Manhunter.” Concluding with little Liam Harper chiming in “Owacle.”