Monday, May 07, 2018

Comic Shop Comics: May 2nd

Batman #46 (DC Comics) The second chapter of Tom King, Tony Daniel and Sandu Florea's "The Gift" picks up "One Year Later"--there's a familiar-sounding jump in time--from the ending of the first chapter, to find Booster Gold bearded, bereft of Skeets (and, Skeets' time machine), talking in jittery, crazy-person dialogue and trapped in the nightmare world he created when he saved Batman's parents from being killed as part of elaborate and misguided wedding gift. It's quite a bit rougher than the first chapter.

While it's unclear what Booster has been doing for a year, other than growing his beard, he has hit on a plan to save the day by introducing Catwoman Selina Kyle to Bruce Wayne. Of course, this Selina is a criminally insane serial killer who is only able to communicate via cat noises. Nevertheless, Booster breaks her out of Arkham Asylum, says he's no good at sewing but still manages to make her a very good replica of the costume Michelle Pfeiffer wore in Batman Returns (and he gave it razor-sharp claws, for some reason), and he then takes her to Wayne Manor, where lots of different people get shot and or clawed (the injury Batman Dick Grayson received? I actually felt that while reading, so good job there, guys!).

Although the story has familiar elements of everything from It's a Wonderful Life to "For The Man Who Has Everything," it is definitely of the sort that one shouldn't think too much about, as if one starts questioning it, one will find that it grows more and more frustrating. Take for example, this alternate timeline's Batman, Dick Grayson. The idea that Dick might have grown up to be a gun-wielding, lethal vigilante without the guidance of Bruce Wayne and Batman more or less checks out, but why would Dick have adopted the name and costume of "Batman," for example...?

Bombshells United #17 (DC Comics) Oh wow, I guess the imminent ending of writer Marguerite Bennett's long-running Bombshells epic came a lot more suddenly than expected after all. The first few pages have a little boy put on his Batwoman hat and turn up the radio to hear the old-timey radio announcer explain what's going on, and it sounds like Bennett might have been making use of all the notes she had for potential, future storylines, as the announcer mentions off-panel conflicts, some featuring characters that were teased to be introduced near the beginning of the book's relaunch under it's new title:
You have stayed with us through every trouble, every crisis-- From the ghostly invasion of Japan by the spirits of the dead, and the spy called Katana who put them down! From Etta Candy's Bonbon Brigade to Cassandra Cain's Bats of Blood and Iron!...When Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy scathed The Scarecrow! When Batwoman bombarded the bullies of Bizarro World!
Aw man, I love Etta Candy, Cassandra Cain, The Scarecrow and Bizarro World! (I wonder what Bizarro Bombshells would be like? Would they be all-male and mostly straight superheroes...? Oh wait, I guess that wouldn't be the Bombshells-iverse's Bizarro World; that just be "The DC Universe," huh...?)

Aside from such mentions.--those were just some in three of the first four panels of the issue--this issue's plot moves at lightning pace. Sometime between the end of the last issue and the beginning of this one, Apokolips invaded earth, along with various alien armadas, like those of Thanagar, and other space alien threats (Brainiac, Parallax) all under the leadership of the book's surprise/out-of-left field Big Bad, Lena Luthor, whose long ago disappearance ties into the behind-the-scenes motivations of several of the major characters in the overall book's narrative. Some of these characters, and the revelations of their plots, also seem like Bennett simply trying to get them worked into the book in one form or another before the series ends (Brainiac and Edward Nygma teaming-up to black out the United States, only to have their plot foiled on the next page by the introduction of Bombshell Jesse Quick, for example).

The art, which is here all provided by Siya Oum, also looks a lot more rough and rushed than I would have liked, as just about every character that has appeared in the Bombshells books at one point or another makes at least a cameo here, but they're not all terribly recognizable, and in some cases I might actually just be projecting who I think a character is supposed to be onto a tiny, sketchy figure in the background of a panel because that's who I think should be there.

DC Nation #0 (DC) This specially-priced, so-cheap-you-have-to-buy-it issue is comprised of three short stories, each previewing a point of emphasis of the publisher's in the coming months: Batman and Catwoman's upcoming marriage in the pages of Batman, writer Brian Michael Bendis' arrival at DC and take over of the Superman line and the No Justice miniseries which leads in to a relaunch of Justice League and two supplementary Justice League books. As these stories are all told by the same creators working on the regular series in question, there's a lot of top talent being mustered here.

The strongest of the three is Tom King and Clay Mann's "Your Big Day," as it stands more-or-less completely on its own. It certainly fits within the context of the current overarching Batman narrative, but even divorced from that--like, say if you picked it up in six or ten years time--it still makes sense as a Joker-being-crazy/scary story. The Joker has broken into some poor sap's house and is holding him hostage, awaiting the arrival of the day's mail, as he is convinced that he is going to receive his invitation to Batman and Catwoman's wedding at this random man's house (So, I guess maybe The Joker does know Batman's secret identity? King has thus far not really shown us how the news of the wedding has been received--or if it has been received at all--by the world outside of Batman's immediate superhero peers. Surely the general public is going raise their collective eyebrows about the fact that Gotham's perpetually eligible bachelor Bruce Wayne, famous for his funding of Batman, is marrying master thief and one-time organized crime boss Selina Kyle, aka Batman villain Catwoman, right?).

As is so often the case with King, there's a somewhat rigid format to the story, with almost every page beginning with the word "Later..." in a narration box as the story jumps ahead in time from beat to beat of the pair's interminable--especially for the victim--waiting game. This is the second time King has written The Joker at any length, after his "War of Jokes and Riddles" story arc (which I kind of hated), and the first time he's written The Joker in a story set in the present. This Joker is pretty similar to that Joker, although instead of having lost his ability to smile and laugh, here he wears a perpetual, pained grin-turned-grimace. He still peppers his dialogue with jokes, but seems to enjoy them a bit. Mann sure makes him scary-looking, never more so than on the bottom of page five, when he's told a pretty decent joke and then stares intently at his victim, waiting for him to laugh.

The Bendis-written Superman story is perhaps most notable for its excellent artwork, provided by pencil artist Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and inker Dexter Vines. Beyond that, it accomplishes a few modest goals, introducing a new character to the staff of the Daily Planet, and teasing a shift in the status quo and an upcoming conflict. The character is Miss Robinson Goode, and Perry White is very proud of her (but, er, shouldn't that be "Ms," Perry?), but, in the last panels of the story, we see her seated at a table talking to someone we aren't shown about how she's in and how she will soon be running the place. Her motivations are apparently pretty sinister. The bigger tease is that something has happened to Lois Lane, and she's apparently been missing for a while. Her office is empty, Perry White doesn't know where she is, no one seems to know where she is, and Perry tries to get that information out of Clark, but he insists that he doesn't know either.

That's...not a terribly compelling aspect of the books, as it seems like the Superman status quo had pretty much just changed, but I suppose it's good to know that Lois wasn't wiped out of continuity or anything. I do hope she and Jon haven't been somehow cosmically rebooted out of Superman's life, though. I suppose we'll see.

The part that actually stuck with me the most from the story--hell, the whole issue--however? That would be the fashion cape wore to her fist day at the Planet.

Finally, the Justice League story is striking in just how in medias res it is. The League has teamed with some Titans and magical types as well as a completely random assortment of supervillains (Deathstroke, Harley Quinn, Sinestro, Starro) to save Brainiac's home world from what look like Marvel's Celestials (Maybe that is what was on the other side of the Source Wall that came in after it was broken in the conclusion of Metal...the Marvel Universe). They are four in number, each representing one of the four fundamental forces of the universe, and to combat them the League has split into four teams, each devoted to one of those forces (and, weirdly, redesigning their costumes so that the characters on each "team" are wearing matching colors, that last bit of which feels a little too close to what Geoff Johns did with his emotional spectrum during his Green Lantern run).

It makes sense, which is something of an accomplishment given how weird the No Justice teams looked upon announcement, but, even more so than the Superman story, it doesn't seem like this one's going to be terribly relevant for too terribly long. And, like Bendis' contribution, I find myself wondering where this will fit in the overall story, when No Justice is collected, as it doesn't read like the beginning of the story, so much as a passage of maybe the second issue or something (I suppose this could kick off the no Justice collection, and then No Justice #1 could start with a "Two days ago" or something... As for Bendis' Superman runs, this is the second short, teasing preview, following the one that was in Action #1,000).

The art is by Jorge Jimenez, and it's not too terribly good. Perhaps owing to the compressed nature of the story--there's 21 name characters on two planets fighting battles on four or five fronts in just 10 pages--it's a little cluttered and confusing. But then, perhaps it's not the best way to judge how good Jimenez is going to be at drawing Justice League after this event wraps up, and he becomes one of that series' two primary artists.

Green Lantern: Kyle Rayner Vol. 2 (DC) The second collection of the Kyle Rayner era of Green Lantern--or Ron Marz era, if you prefer--covers much of 1995 and, like the first volume, is more than complete. That is, not only does it contain the next chunk of issues from that particular volume of Green Lantern (#58-#65), but because there are a pair of crossover storylines that included issues of Green Lantern, other titles participating in those storylines are included herein as well.

So two issues of Guy Gardner: Warrior, which begin the "Capitol Punishment" three-parter that concludes in Green Lantern, are also collected in this volume, and the last storyline in the book is "The Siege of the Zi Charam,"a five-parter that began and ended in New Titans, and included an issue a piece of Darkstars, Damage and, of course, Green Lantern.

Marz writes the lion's share of these comics, although Beau Smith, Marv Wolfman, Michel Jan Friedman and Tom Joyner also contribute, scripting the books they were writing at the time. Darryl Banks and Romeo Tanghal are similarly the primary pencil artist and inker, but there are a total of 19 other artists involved, perhaps the most surprising of whom was Cully Hamner, who draws part of single issue of Green Lantern, in which his current style is only just recognizable, and I likely would have passed over it without recognizing it had I not read that issue's credit box.

This period finds Kyle Rayner getting settled into his new life in New York City, which includes membership on the Titans superhero team being lead by Arsenal Roy Harper, and a burgeoning friendship-becoming-romance with fellow Titan Darkstar Donna Troy. He's grown increasingly comfortable with his new role as a superhero, and there's another one of those teases of Hal Jordan reclaiming the mantle, only to reinforce that it's Kyle's again. That comes in a two-parter entitled "Parallax View," in which both Ganthet and Hal show up at his apartment at the same time, both asking for the ring back. While Kyle and Hal fight using green light constructs, Ganthet teleports around the DCU collecting a little ad hoc Justice League to throw at Hal: Superman, Martian Manhunter, Aquaman, Flash Wally West, the then-composite Hawkman and Green Arrow Oliver Queen (wearing the costume that Connor Hawke would be assuming shortly). That's...a lot of dudes, isn't it? Ganthet visits Black Canary, who he interrupts while admiring herself in her classic fishnet costume and saying that she doesn't care if it is sexist since she looks so good in it, but when she informs him that she's lost her sonic scream he leaves without her.

The aforementioned "Capitol Crimes" storyline is mostly a Guy Gardner one--this occurs shortly after he lost his Sinestro ring and learned that he's Vuldarian and has weird, gross new powers--that intersects with Kyle's story in that he fights Major Force, who has stuffed a woman into another refrigerator (the cliffhanger implies that it is Guy's mom, but we later find out it in Guy's mom's friend...and Guy's mom's cat!). For some reason, I had never heard of this particular woman in this particular refrigerator, so I guess that Alexandra DeWitt dying as part of Kyle's origin wasn't exactly the straw the broke the camel's back in that regard, even if it did eventually lend a name to the phenomenon.

The relationship with Donna includes a quieter issue where she helps Kyle unpack his new apartment (that's the issue that includes Hamner art), a Christmas issue set partially at the Titans HQ, a team-up in which Kyle draws the attention of Darkseid and the pair have to battle Kalibak and the aforementioned "Siege" crossover, a actually pretty weird, sci-fi story that is a natural fit for GL and Darkstar/s and the new Titans character Jarras Minion, but not so much the rest of the Titans team (here, that's Arsenal, Terra II, Mirage, Damage and the-Matrix-verison-of-Supergirl, as Impulse missed the spaceship's launch).

In addition to all of those characters, Steel puts in a brief appearance, and Kyle briefly battles Felix Faust and Doctor Polaris.

The art in this issue is mostly of the not-very-good sort, although some of the most egregious examples are the fault of the style of the time more so than just all-around poor work. I think the most striking work might have been that of Warrior artist Mitch Byrd; there are some cringey-looking panels, but his figures are always thick, somewhat squat, and don't much look like anything anyone else was drawing in these issues. In general, the Banks art was strong, and I was pleasantly surprised to see Ron Lim pencils during the "Siege" storyline.

I'm not sure how much this book will have to offer many readers who weren't at least somewhat familiar with the state of the DCU at the time--I think I had only read two issues of these Green Lantern comics, plus most of "Siege" previously from back-issue bins--given how of their time they are. That is, almost every hero who Kyle crosses paths with, particularly Guy and Donna, are in such strange and such different places than they are now that I imagine anyone coming into these collections cold would have a lot of questions.

I'm enjoying them for the most part, though, even if it is clear at a glance that these aren't exactly the best-drawn comic books DC was publishing in the mid-1990s.

Looking ahead, which is something I like to do with these collections, it looks like the next volume should contain the very first Flash team-up (the fact that Wally disliked Kyle as much as most Hal Jordan fans and only rather gradually got to the point where he begrudgingly became his friend was one of the aspects of those characters I really liked), some Underworld Unleashed business, "Hero Quest" (in which Kyle tries to force Batman, Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel to teach him something about being a hero) and maybe the first meeting and team-up with the new Green Arrow (another interesting relationship of the era of DC heroes), although given the collections inclusion of other books thus far, one never knows. I doubt we'll see any more issue of Titans though, as after "Siege" that book just had one more story arc, the five-part finale, "Meltdown."

Street Angel Goes To Juvie (Image Comics) The latest of Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca's hardcover, oversized, 9-by-12-inch Street Angel album from Image Comics (and the fourth such album, unless I missed one, which would be a terrible tragedy), finds our heroine Jesse Sanchez going deep undercover as "Shiraz Thunderbird" to juvie, aka "Alcatraz Junior." She's kinda sorta on a mission to bust someone close to a local superhero out, but she's also kind of their on vacation because, as it turns out, Street Angel fucking loves prison life. They feed her as much food as she can eat three times a day, they let her sleep in a bed, school is taught at her precise learning level and they get to watch movies once in a while!

The central gag, that Street Angel actually kinda sorta loves being in jail because prison life is infinitely easier than being a homeless little girl, never quite gets old, as Rugg and Maruca keep finding new ways to demonstrate that tension and, well, it's a pretty short comic, so it's not like any gag has too much time to wear out it's welcome. This comic contains pretty much all of the images of Jesse smiling I can remember seeing, too; eventually she gets so happy that her face looks not entirely unlike that of a smiling emoji.

As with previous books in the series, there's a ton of fun back matter, including book club discussion questions (man, I really need to start a Street Angel book club), and I particularly enjoyed the end pages, which are presented as a sort of scrap book including newspaper clippings of Jesse's adventures and various mug shots that reveal other dubious aliases, like Jenny Sandwich, Johnny Manchez and Finnley McGee.

The only bad part of the book? There's a mention of Street Angel's Dog, a Free Comic Book Day comic, and I completely forgot this Saturday was Free Comic Book Day, which means I probably missed my chance to get a copy of that.

True Believers: Kitty Pryde and Wolverine #1 (Marvel Entertainment) My sister is an elementary school teacher and a few years ago she asked if I had any kids comics I could give to her for use in her class. From what I understand, she has her own little personal library of books and now comics and graphic novels that the students in her class are allowed to pick out and read when they finish their work early or during free or down time or whatever. They are third-graders, and they seem to particularly enjoy the DC Super Hero Girls original graphic novels and the various IDW-published Star Wars-related comics I've sent their way.

I generally ignore Marvel's "True Believers" $1 reprint line, given that most of the stories that appear in them can be read in their entirety in collected form, but this week when my eyes fell on them among the new releases in my local comics shop, it occurred to me that they might make for a good source of cheap comics to send to my sister's students--after I read them myself, of course.

Kitty Pryde and Wolverine #1 seemed like a good bet, starring as it does the preeminent juvenile point-of-view character of the X-Men franchise, if not the Marvel Universe as a whole. It is, as most readers with a deeper knowledge of the X-Men and Marvel than I know, the first issue of a 1984 miniseries, written by Chris Claremont and drawn by Al Milgrom (or Allen Milgrom, here). Despite the shared billing, this issue at least is a Kitty comic, with Wolverine only appearing in a panel or two, when Kitty calls the mansion in a moment of desperation and he picks up the phone.

I liked it okay, and it was a pretty good reminder that, for all of Claremont's quirks and as sophisticated as comics storytelling has become in the decades since, the sort of first pass through of X-Men adventures were perhaps their strongest, as the franchise hadn't yet expanded horizontally into too many books, nor been passed between so many different editors and writers, so many of them quoting and homaging their own favorite stories from the Claremont era, that X-Men comics can often seem to be something between unwelcoming and impenetrable to new readers. Like, I picked this up with no knowledge of what the hell was going on in the early 1980s, and it was easy to follow. I can't say the same of the first issue of virtually any X-Men comic I can pick up these days, despite keeping at least an eye on what Marvel's been up to in that corner of their publishing line for the past, oh, 18 years or so.

That said, I suppose I should have double-checked the credits box before purchasing this, because I forgot how much verbiage Claremont comics used to bear...some of his scripts can make Brian Michael Bendis read like Raymond Carver, and this issue had more words in it than most chapter books. Aside from just how much reading it involves, the content seemed okay for third-graders, but Marvel doesn't seem to agree, as they labeled it T. So I guess I won't be passing this on, after all.

Milgrom's art is really quite great though. I really love his line work throughout this, particularly the inking on the trees in the park on the opening splash page, and the scenes involving water--a rainstorm in Tokyo, a scene set in the sewer. By the time I reached the last page, I was curious to see what happens next, so I guess the book succeeded in enticing me into reading another Marvel collection (if not buying one; that's what library's are for, after all). It just didn't seem to meet the purpose I bought it for (passing it on to a bunch of third-graders; I suppose if I wanted to get them a high-quality comic featuring Wolverine and Kitty Pryde, I'd have to look for some Wolverine: First Class back issues from Fred Van Lente and company).

Still, it wasn't anywhere nearly as inappropriate for little kids I'm not related to as...

True Believers: Wolverine--Sword Quest #1 (Marvel) I bought this for the same reason I did Kitty Pryde and Wolverine, but by the sixth panel the script started alluding to rape, and the first dozen or so pages continually do so. That's on top of all the killing, mostly accomplished by stabbing with claws and, as tastefully as it is all staged--that is, it's neither gratuitous nor gory--it adds up to something that reads way too much like an R-rated 1980s action movie to hand to a bunch of third-graders, I think, as cool as they no doubt think Wolverine is.

This is another Chris Claremont joint, the first issue of the first Wolverine ongoing series, launched in 1988. The sub-title of the True Believers edition, "Sword Quest," is just the name of the story arc, but adding it to the cover sure sold me on it. I mean, I like Wolverine just fine, and I quite naturally like both swords and quests, so why wouldn't I buy this for a $1...?

Despite not being anywhere near appropriate for the kids, this comic is perfectly appropriate for Caleb's. Again, I have no sense of what the hell was going on with the X-Men at this point, but from Wolverine's narration, the world apparently thinks they are all dead, and he works to try and keep the fact that he's not dead a secret. I suppose that explains why he's not wearing his Wolverine costume, but is instead wearing all-black, with some pain around his eyes to form something of a mask, although one imagines the wolfman hairstyle and the claws coming out of his knuckles would be a pretty good giveaway that he is, in fact, Wolverine of the X-Men, regardless of what he's wearing or how well one can see the area around his eyes.

He later adopts and even dumber disguise, when he meets someone who actually knew him. He puts on an eye-patch and a hat while in Madripoor--not sure if this is the beginning of his "Patch" identity or not--and apparently that's enough to make Lindsay McCabe not recognize him, despite the fact that he's still a pretty short guy with extremely prominent, not-at-all-in-style Civil War era sideburns.

The art is penciled by John Buscema and inked by Al Williamson, and it's pretty good stuff. There's something particularly Joe Kurbert-y about it, particularly in the first half of the book, which features a lot of modern pirates and some uniforms. There are a lot headbands, bandoliers, coats with collars and folds filled with shadows, knives and firearms, and haunted, world-weary looks.

I really dig their Wolverine. While he looks like he's wearing all-black on the cover, the costume he sports in the interiors looks more-or-less like his traditional one, sans the cowl, only the color is a light blue with darker blue and and black highlights (Of course, his hair also looks blue, not unlike the way Superman and Wonder Woman used to have blue-black hair). Their Wolverine has a magnificent mane, and in at least one splash page, he doesn't even seem to have a human head, just a too-small, mask-like face fringed by swoops of blue hair that form a sort of four-pointed star around his twisted-face scowl.

He kills so many pirates, in one scene they pile on top of him, and he somehow seems to make a human shish kebab out of them a stack of seven flailing bodies stacked atop his extended right arm, which he then hurls through the walls of a shack. When he's not in dude-killing mode, his hair seems to calm down quite a bit. For example, when he's in disguise later, his sideburns lay down flat. I'm not sure if it's intentional or not, but the implication is that Wolverine's head of hair bristles like that of a wolf when in battle...?

A lot of what is in here now seems like cliche business, with Wolverine spouting off his catchphrases, and Madripoor, the eye patch, his Canadian samurai posture, even the particular sword he's questing after, but that's only because I'm reading this in 30 years after it was originally published, and those are all elements that the scores of other Wolverine writers to follow Claremont all incorporated into their own comics over and over and over again until they became cliche.

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