Friday, February 09, 2018

Comic Shop Comics: February 7th

Batman #40 (DC Comics) This is the concluding chapter of writer Tom King's two-part Wonder Woman team-up, a story that was uncomfortably close to one Joe Kelly's "Immortal Beloved" in 200'0's Action Comics #761 featuring Superman and Wonder Woman a while back. I don't think King was lying when he said that he accidentally wrote the same story, having never read Kelly's, and I imagine he was genuinely mortified when dozens of people started pointing that out to him, but I still kind of can't believe that it ever even happened at all.

If King himself had missed the 18-year-old Superman story, if the artist and colorist and letterer didn't notice the similarities because they too hadn't read it, you have to assume that someone somewhere at DC Comics would have noticed. If not the editors on Batman, is there not someone at DC whose job it is to Google plots and make sure no one else already told almost the exact same story with in the last ten or twenty years...? Like, an intern? Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman have been around so damn long now, that it's not unimaginable that more than one writer will come up with the same idea for some of them; DC really should get someone whose job it is to check that sort of thing.

And it really is a rather similar story, as the second half reveals, with Bruce and Diana not hooking up, just as Clark and Diana did not hook up in "Immortal Beloved." Diana perhaps comes out better this time around, as she and Bruce simultaneously realize that they can't do this because not only would it be unfair to their significant others, but because they are just too good of friends at this point; in the earlier story, it was Superman rebuffed Wonder Woman.

And, accident or not, it does show a certain degree of creative bankruptcy, if a second male writer, completely independently of the other, decides to do a Wonder Woman team-up, and the story that comes to mind is to tempt his male hero with a sexual encounter with Wonder Woman, using the hero's ability to resist her feminine charms as a device to illustrate his virtue.

Ugh, the more I think about this story, the more gross it seems...

Pretty stellar artwork from Joelle Jones and colorist Jordie Bellaire go a long way toward making this an enjoyable read, however.

Bombshells United #11 (DC) Hmm...

You know, I think I may be done with Bombshells. There's nothing particularly bad about or wrong with this issue, just as there hasn't been anything particularly bad or wrong with any of the previous issues in this particular story arc, but I feel like I've gotten to the point with the series where I got with Lumberjanes. Every issue wasn't bad, but it also wasn't better than good, and wasn't doing anything on a monthly basis that justified paying for and reading it in that fashion rather just waiting to check it out in library trade a few times a year.

Like Lumberjanes, the relaunched Bombshells has had arcs that tend to go on an issue or two too long (there have only been two arcs since the relaunch, and we're already up to issue #11). I suppose it doesn't help that we've gotten pretty far from the ships-fight-World War II premise, and this particular arc has been dominated by characters, concepts and storylines I've seen more than enough of in the regular DCU--Talia al Ghul, Lazarus Pits, Black Adam, his attempts to bring Isis back to life...

I don't know. I just get less and less out of each issue. Maybe writer Marguerite Bennett will introduce Cassandra Cain's Black Bat--teased in an earlier issue of the series--and Marguerite Sauvage will come back to draw before I get around to dropping the book from my pull...

Justice League #38 (DC) Okay, not only have I got no idea why Flash's eyes are glowing and his face looks purple--I thought he was Eclipsed at first, but I guess maybe he's just suffering from oxygen deprivation--but I can't even begin to guess what is up with his torso. I haven't been reading The Flash, but I thought Barry Allen was still a police scientist; is he a competitive bodybuilder now...?

Marco Santucci joins writer Christopher Priest--who seems to have changed his name again to just "Priest," based on the credits--for this issue, which continues to focus on the turmoil within the League, as the characters who aren't Green Lanterns express their disappointment in Batman as chairman. The action centerpiece, the thing on the cover, involves The Flash trying to rescue someone in space.

There's a lot of science--or, at least, comic book science--in some extremely wordy pages, as Barry thinks his way through how to use his powers in space to save someone without dying himself, but that's the trick with Flash's powers. As with Superman, it can be very difficult to write them being used in such a way that a few panels of drawings can explain.

There's a weird bit where Aquaman shows up wearing his old blue water camouflage costume, not seen in a long, long time, and no one at all comments on it. Maybe this is the arc's villain "The Fan" impersonating Arthur, but it's bizarre that such a big and obvious tell isn't brought up and dismissed by the characters.

Oh, and there's also something weird involving Bruce Wayne that seems to contradict the goings-on in Batman, and is especially interesting read during the same week that he almost kisses Wonder Woman but refrains from doing so at the last second, but I suppose we can put that down to this Justice League arc having occurred before his engagement to Selina Kyle...

Nightwing #38 (DC) Writer Sam Humphries seems to have a decent grasp on Nightwing's fan base. This issue includes a scene where Dick Grayson pretends to be a stripper, and is dancing around in his underwear while women stuff bills into them. 

Snotgirl #9 (Image Comics) Lottie and the Hater's Club are at a fancy hotel in the desert for Thankstravaganza, an "annual festival for us influencers" put on by some of the big brands. It was nice to see the girls all in close proximity, and without much in the way of interference from the male characters. The change of setting, in short, was refreshing.

Also, Lottie meets a rather vapid ghost that is apparently obsessed with Rihanna.

Swamp Thing: Winter Special #1 (DC) This prestige format 80-page giant--it even says that on the cover!--is pretty pricey at $7.99, but also worthwhile. It serves a dual purpose of honoring the late, great Len Wein by publishing the last comic he was working on for DC (as well as a few other little tributes to him) and offering an original story starring Wein's most famous DC Comics creation from currently hot writer Tom King and artist Jason Fabok.

Let's start with the King/Fabok story, as that's what the book starts with, and what is on the cover. It is a pretty great, 40-page Swamp Thing story, in which the monster hero is wanders through a blizzard, attempting to carry a little boy to safety, while struggling with his memory and dwindling powers and abilities, as the cold and snow muffle the power of the plant life.

King is an extremely interesting super-comics writer to read, because he is obviously very talented, and attracted to rather formal, showy structures in his comics scripts, but he also often makes curious decisions, and takes storytelling shortcuts. He's one of the few mainstream comics writers whose work I regularly encounter and end up metaphorically applauding while metaphorically rolling my eyes every few pages.

Here the curious decisions include opening and closing the story by allowing readers to "overhear" sports talk radio in which the host discusses a Gotham Knights quarterback's poor performance during a game against the New Orleans Saints. The content of what is discussed kinda sorta relates to the story, but nothing would be lost without it, and it's just a weird fit with the rest of the story, as there's nothing involving football, sports, games, competition or radio in the story. It is a little speech that comes out of nowhere.

The other is a "twist" that I suspect most readers will guess before they hit the halfway mark, one telegraphed by rather inelegant uses of "Later" to denote the passage of time, something that could just as easily have been denoted by the artwork, were the book scripted and/or drawn a little differently.

Over all though, it was a pretty solid Swamp Thing-as-horror comic protagonist story (I don't think he had to kill that bear though, given his powers; I realize the scene is there to demonstrate something that will be key later, but that demonstration could have come when he faced the human killer.)

I'm not, in general, a fan of Jason Fabok's work, although this made me think about why, as it is very strong work. It is certainly the first Fabok-drawn comic I took note of as being really good. He does a fine job of translating some very weird uses of Swamp Thing's weird powers--like the bit where he starts a fire, for example, or acts as a fallen log-style bridge to help the boy cross a crevasse--and his ornate style is well-suited for a character that can be drawn in almost endless detail.

I liked this much better than the last King-written Swamp Thing story I read, Batman #23, in large-part because Fabok's art is much more traditional and better-suited to the subject matter than King's partner on that story (and other works), Mitch Gerards. (Reading this did make me wonder if DC should talk to King about a Brave and The Bold series, given his team-ups between Batman and Superman, Wonder Woman and Swamp Thing, and his evident interest in DC characters as disparate as Swamp Thing and Mister Miracle).

That's followed by a two-page "editor's note" from Rebecca Taylor about Wein, and why and how they were presenting his last comic here and in this manner. It was to be the first issue of a sequel to his recent-ish miniseries with Kelley Jones. Wein finished scripting it--the eight-page script follows the comic--but he didn't finish the "lettering script," so what they print is Jones' inked and colored finish art, sans any dialogue or sound-effects. This is actually a rather poignant last work from Wein, which Taylor sets up by noting that "No one wrote Swamp Thing like Len," and so they didn't bother to have someone else finish that script; in a real sense, then, Swamp Thing is silenced in this story. (I suppose we could question pairing the comic with a story twice its length written by someone else, but I imagine DC decided the best way to get people to pick up the Wein/Jones comic was give readers a King/Fabok one to entice them to do so.)

Interestingly, it's actually pretty clear what is going on in the story even without dialogue. Especially if you've read very many Batman comics, for example, and then it's clear that if Commissioner Gordon goes off to stand in the dark away from a crime scene by himself for a few panels, then he's probably talking to Batman, even if we can't see Batman or overhear their dialogue (Batman appears; but not until the final page splash reveal).

The story involves a Gotham City kidnapping carried out by Solomon Grundy, which is why Gordon and Batman get involved. Jones doesn't disappoint with his insane artwork. He's particularly adept at depicting the way Swamp Thing emerges from plant life to appear somewhere far away, and I really liked the panel of Swampy retreating into the potted plant here, too.

There's also perhaps the most amazing, over-the-top sequence in which Batman captures a pair of thugs and blows up two boats using only a couple of extremely well-aimed batarangs, a scene that may be the best scene depicting batarang usage of all time, and then there's this:
Yes, that's Swamp Thing water skiing on a lily pad.

The rest of the book is filled with reprintings of tributes to both Wein and his Swamp Thing co-creator Bernie Wrightson, including a Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez image of Wein with his co-creations Swamp Thing and Wolverine.

Young Monsters In Love #1 (DC) DC's Valentine's Day special takes an interesting tack this year, narrowing things down from the too-broad concept of "romance" to something more specific, "romance among monsters." While the definitions are loose (of these "young" monsters, at least three are specifically called out within the stories within for being centuries old, and they count Deadman, Monsieur Mallah and The Brain as monsters), it's a pretty smart move, one which allows for stories featuring many relatively little seen characters, and contributions from a few of my favorite DC artists, past or present.

I'm not quite sure why it costs $9.99 though; like the Swamp Thing special, it says "80-Page Giant" right there on the cover, but it lacks a spine, and is still two bucks more. Of course, it has more comics content within, but it's unusual for the Big Two to distinguish between comics and not-comics when doing their page-counts.

Anyway, let's look at this one at a time...

*"Nocturnal Animal" by Kyle Higgins and Kelley Jones

Cover artist Jones kicks the special off, marking the artist's second DC book of the week. It is a good week! Jones' Man-Bat, as previously, is big, hairy and scary, resembling a hulking version of a Rick Baker-designed movie werewolf with wings, his bearded face sometime looking skeletal depending on the angle. He spends most of the story on the ground, his wings barely visible, as he stoops and squeezes into panels mostly too small to contain him.

As in all of these stories, continuity is mostly shrugged at in favor of something more evergreen. I don't think this fits with what little we've seen of Man-Bat in the current, Flashpoint-born DC Universe, but I also don't think it much matters. Doctor Kirk Langstrom is trying to reconnect with his estranged wife Francine, who left him due to the fact that he occasionally turns into a giant were-bat monster. Throughout the story, Kirk sees and hears what is essentially an imaginary Man-Bat hovering above him, always trying to cajole him into taking the formula to become Man-Bat again.

Batman appears on the first splash page, and in maybe two other panels, part of Kirk's dream of being Man-Bat that opens the story. It was weird to see Jones drawing Batman's current costume, with the yellow-outlined bat-symbol and all the seams. He seems to have really toned down the ears and cape too, unfortunately.

*"Pieces of Me" by Tim Seeley, Giuseppe Camuncoli and Cam Smith

This is billed as "A Frankenstein Agent of SHADE" story, and finds the Grant Morrison and Doug Mahnke-reimagined versions of Frankenstein and The Bride working under Father Time out of SHADE's Ant Farm base, as in the pages of the rather quickly cancelled New 52 book, Frankenstein Agent of SHADE book. They are on a mission to destroy robots that have been possessed by Satan--good job, writer Tim Seeley--although that mainly just gives them something to be doing while narration boxes are filled with a love letter than Frank wrote for his ex, romantically listing his various body parts and how they relate to her. Before he can even give her the letter, however, he realizes he lost her (apparently she is dating a female vampire now, I guess; so the cover is sort of accurate, just not the particular not-Frankenstein monster that she has wrapped her four arms around).

Camuncoli's art is pretty good here. It wasn't until the second page that I realized it was not Mahnke who was drawing it.

*"Buried On Sunday" by Mairghread Scott and Bryan Hitch and Andrew Currie

Superboy tags along with Superman as Solomon Grundy, the monster in this story, is allowed to visit the grave of his long, long dead wife. There's some fighting, but not much. Scott's read on Superman and the other members of his family seems spot on, but the thing that will stick with me most is the tie Grundy is wearing. I...don't understand it. For the longest time I just assumed the ragged clothing he was wearing was the clothes that he woke up with, but that tie seems way, way too new, too modern and it's still tied perfectly. So I guess he's changed clothes since he's come back to life. And tied that tie with his big fat fingers, somehow. Yes, that image of Solomon Grundy's tie may actually haunt me.

*"The Dead Can Dance" by Collin Kelly, Jackson Lanzing and Javier Fernandez

Co-writers Collin Kelly and Jackson Lanzing put Raven in a short story named after the Australian/British dark wave band, opening with a panel by artist Javier Fernandez that echoes one of the most famous images of The Exorcist.

It is, apparently, Valentine's Day, and we learn that her teammates have completely forgotten poor Raven, so she devotes herself to some supernatural investigation, as she's called to a house to deal with a resident ghost. She manages to put it to rest by fulfilling a wish of its, which also allows her to indulge in an appropriately spooky Valentine's Day activity.

It's a shame the art's not more clear, though, as the ghost is of a teenage boy and is supposed to be cute, but it's impossible to tell that by looking at the drawings of him.

*"Be My Valentine" by Paul Dini and Guillem March

EDILW favorite Guillem March does such a good job of evoking the style of Neal Adams, the artist most associated with Deadman, throughout this short Deadman story that when flipping through the book, I actually thought it was Adams who had drawn this story.

Writer Paul Dini crafts a story involving a grade school Valentine's party that almost went tragically wrong because of the actions of a bully. Using his possession powers, Deadman is able to save a kid's life, and then try to turn life around for a couple of other kids.

*"Heart-Shaped Box" by Mark Russell and Frazer Irving

And it's the second appearance by Swamp Thing in this week's batch of comics. Here he is drawn by Frazer Irving, who draws him as a man-shaped bush, almost always shrouded-in-shadow, save for his red eyes. A lot happens in such a short story, as Swamp Thing finds a new love and loses her, as well as exacting a rather cruel, but non-lethal vengeance on those that have wronged the pair of them. Interestingly, the final series of images are the exact same as those in the Swamp Thing: Winter Special.

*"Visibility" by Steve Orlando and Nic Klein

Given writer Steve Orlando's affection for the DC Comics work of Grant Morrison, it is perhaps unsurprising that his contribution to this anthology is an eight-page extrapolation of a joke from Morrison's script for 1990's Doom Patrol #34. That was the issue in which prominent members of the Silver Age Doom Patrol's mortal enemies The Brotherhood of Evil, disembodied brain The Brain and intelligent super-gorilla Monsieur Mallah, confessed their love for one another just before they were destroyed in an explosion.

At the time, the scene struck teenage Caleb as funny for just how weird and out-of-left-field it was, but then, that Caleb was still using "gay" as a catchall negative slang word (You know, "That movie was so gay," etc). Looking back, I guess that's pretty much what Morrison was doing with the story; it was a throwaway gay joke. That was the punchline: Ha ha, the disembodied evil brain and the evil super-gorilla with the beret on are totally gay for each other.

The scene stuck and became canon, and in most of their appearances since, the pair have been portrayed as romantically involved (Hell, Wikipediea refers to Monsieur Mallah as "the criminal and romantic partner of the Brain).

I suppose one could read this story as act of reclaiming negative portrayals of gay DC Comics characters from the late 20th century, similar to the way Orlando cast Extrano in a small role in his Midnighter comics (where he was essentially just a DC Doctor Strange).  On the other hand, given Orlando's buttressing of his comics by Morrison characters and concepts (and those of other writers working at DC in the 1990s), it could also just be seen as one more example of his homaging a favorite writer.

There's probably an essay to be written about how this pair of minor villains went from a ignorant gay joke to being among DC's recognizable out and gay characters--not the title of this story--but I'm certainly not the one to write that essay. Speaking of such characters, the plot here is that Mallah has taken hostages at a Lexcorp facility and is attempting to steal a doohickey that will restore The Brain's vision. The police negotiator? Maggie Sawyer.

*"The Turning of Deborah Dancer" by Alisa Kwitney and Stephanie Hans

This is an "I, Vampire" story, and as I have never read any such stories featuring the Andrew Bennett character before, I'm ill-equipped to appreciate this one. It seems to be following the recent New 52 series, as Andrew is portrayed as younger and sexier, and some past continuity is referred to.

Anyway, Andrew and his friend Deborah are investigating a killing, and get attacked by a vampire, which artist/colorist Stephanie Hans has drawn the hell out of.

Then they go off to have a bunch of sex. The end.

*"To Hell and Gone" by Phil Hester and Mirko Colak

I like Phil Hester's art so much that I'm always a little disappointed to see his name show up under "Writer." That's not to say there's anything wrong with his writing of course, this is a fine story, I would just prefer to see his writing paired with his drawing, you know?

I got a very Alan Grant/Garth Ennis vibe from this Demon story, in which Etrigan storms a particular part of hell in order to destroy a particular artifact for a particular reason. That sounds vague but, well, it's an eight-page story, so I wouldn't want to spoil what's in it.

I wasn't particularly enamored with artist Colak's Etrigan design; he looks like a pretty standard orange-skinned, nub-horned orc or ogre type, wearing his traditional costume. He's a very fun character to draw, and to look at drawings of, and this particular take wasn't as spectacular as those of many of the other artists to have drawn the Kirby-created horror hero.

Colorist Mike Spicer gives everything a warm, muted look that feels elegiac, and far from the expected cartoon bright colors or overwhelming darks one might normally associate with the character and his adventures.

*"Dear Velcoro" by James Robinson and John McCrea

You know who is probably my favorite Etrigan, The Demon artists? Why, John McCrea, who enjoyed a short run on The Demon with Garth Ennis and drew him in the "Ace of Killers " arc of Hitman (a story which Orlando plucked a few things from to use in his aforementioned Midnighter comics).

And here's McCrea! So that's Kelley Jones, John McCrea and Guillem March, all between the same set of covers. That's a pretty successful anthology in my book.

This is a Creature Commandos story, one using the original iteration of the characters and set during World War II. They are on a mission to take out Nazi-built killer robots, but in-between Vincent (the vampire) and Warren (the werewolf) have a heart-to-heart about Vince's girl back home.

 McCrea is great at drawing werewolves.


collectededitions said...

Joshua Hale Fialkov's New 52 I, Vampire, starring Andrew Bennett, is well worth your time. Easily the best overlooked title of the New 52 debuts, it's smart and frightening, with Fialkov constantly changing the point-of-view protagonist to add deeper and deeper levels to the book. Also Andrea Sorrentino draws the hell out of it.

JohnF said...

"I thought Barry Allen was still a police scientist; is he a competitive bodybuilder now...?"

That's why I bought the JG Jones version. It's a million times better.