Sunday, August 05, 2018

A Month of Wednesdays: July 2018


Archie #32 (Archie Comics) Thus concludes Mark Waid's 32-issue, three-year run on the Archie reboot, through which he worked with a variety of incredible artists and, towards the end here, co-writer Ian Flynn. It ended up being a pretty perfect comic book run, and in this final issue, Waid and company manage to bring several characters back from the directions they were heading in that seemed to break the traditional Archie status quo. That is, Archie is now with neither Betty or Veronica, the eternal love triangle preserved in a state of perpetual potential, while The Blossoms and Reggie have all managed to step back a bit from outright villains to more palatable jerks, Mr. Weatherbee isn't going anywhere, Betty seems to have recovered from her accident just fine, and so on.

Actually, perhaps this isn't the true end of Waid's run, as he will be reuniting with his old writing partner Brian Augustyn to script Archie 1941, a miniseries set back when Archie Andrews was first introduced to the world.

As was announced in comics industry rag The New York Times, the series will be relaunched under its old numbering--how very Marvel "Legacy" of them--with a new and excellent creative team, but will apparently continue the current, rebooted continuity.

No word on what happens to artist Audrey Mok though, who, as this issue yet again demonstrates, is one of the best of the many great artists Archie Comics has hired since Archie #1 dropped in 2015, and is one of the better artists working in mainstream comics today full stop.

Archie Meets Batman '66 #1 (Archie) Mike Allred's cover for this issue was so perfect, I was actually a little reluctant to open it, and instead just stared at it extra-long. With a cover that good--look at the garage details, the tools and calendar on the wall!--the interiors couldn't possibly be as good as the book looks like it will be, right...?

Well, it's not bad at all. DC's Batman '66 writer Jeff Parker teams with Michael Moreci on the script, while the art comes courtesy of pencil artist Dan Parent and inker J. Bone. That means the comic looks like an Archie comic, and if not quite like one from the mid 1960s, than not too far off-base, thanks to the artists' long-time familiarity with the characters and milieu.

At the 1966 World's Science Fair in Gotham City, Poison Ivy attacks with her plant creations, but Batman, Robin and Batgirl are able to defeat her and another minor villain using her attack for a distraction. Meanwhile, the Big Four--The Joker, Penguin, Catwoman and The Riddler--are all hanging out in their United Underworld headquarters, when The Penguin proposes they set their sites on some lower-hanging fruit than that of Gotham, turning their criminal attention to a smaller, Batman-less city. You know, like Riverdale.

They hatch their plot in this issue, which ends with Veronica--the only one who is alarmed by how strangely her father and the cops are acting--reaching out to Dilton and contacting The Bat-Cave.

If you like either Batman '66 or Archie Comics, than you'll like this; and if you like both Batman '66 and Archie Comics, well then, you should love this.

And that cover...!

Batman #50 (DC Comics) I don't think this comic actually worked in any way by which I am capable of judging a comic book--I will not be at all surprised to learn that it shipped far more units than the previous five or so issues of the series did, however--but since I've already written too many words about it, I suppose I should just provide a link to my post on Batman #50 instead of restating much of that here. 

I got the Arthur Adams variant cover. I like that DC's variants now ship sans logo, so one can see the imagery better. I think Batman's costume looks a little weird without his briefs, although I think when he is depicted leaping crotch first at you, it really emphasizes his lack of briefs.

Batman #51 (DC) So here is the solicitation text for this particular issue:
The honeymoon’s over for Bruce Wayne as Gotham City’s most prominent citizen gets selected for jury duty in a chilling court case involving Mr. Freeze! Freeze claims the charges should be dismissed because Batman used excessive force; cue the outrage and media circus. While doing his civic duty, Wayne’s forced to take a hard look at the Dark Knight’s methods. And hey…what is Dick Grayson doing running around the city dressed as Batman?
Oddly enough, that is almost the entirety of the issue. Like, you get almost the exact same amount of information from actually reading Tom King and Lee Weeks' 20-page comic book story as you do reading that solicit. That's...not great.

No mention is made of the previous issue's events, or even of Catwoman, and the scenes in the issue are presented matter-of-factly, allowing the reader to see them unfold--in a slightly scrambled order--without any narration or explanation by the characters to really color an understanding of Batman or Bruce Wayne's motives. So Batman, presumably suffering from his manly man-pain caused by his fiancee rather randomly ghosting him for dubious reasons*, suspects that Mister Freeze is involved in some deaths that no one else detected foul play in, and he beats the living hell out of Freeze. For the trial, Gotham City billionaire, repeated victim of super-crime and guy who is thought by the world at large to literally fund the Batman, is called for jury duty. And sat on the jury! This would be a little like if Donald Trump actually did shoot someone on Fifth Avenue, as he joked he could do on the campaign trail without losing any of his supporters, and Rebekah Mercer was sat on the jury for the resulting trail.

Meanwhile, Dick Grayson has put the Bat-suit back on to fill in for Bruce, although it's not yet clear if Bruce knows and/or cares he's doing this or not.

The one twist, the thing that's not in the solicit for this particular issue, is that eleven members of the jury think that serial killer, super-villain and terrorist Mister Freeze should be found guilty even if he didn't commit these particular crimes (and even if a vigilante violently beat him into issuing a false confession) because come on, he's Mister fucking Freeze, and in the real world he would have been executed forever ago. But one juror thinks differently: Bruce Wayne.

Nitpicks: Dick Grayson-as-Batman and Killer Croc are fighting in Gotham at one point, which is a strange thing for them to be doing given where Croc is now based and what his job is, and in fighting Freeze, Batman breaks the helmet off of his containment suit and leaves him without it, exposed to open air, which should kill him, or so endanger him it would be a lot like, I don't know, stabbing The Riddler in the chest and leaving him bleeding in a gutter, in the hopes that city emergency services get him to the hospital in time to save his life.

Great art though. Weeks' stately artwork evokes the look and feel of the old Gotham Central comics, which were some pretty damn good Batman comics.

Dark Nights: Metal: The Resistance (DC) This was a pure impulse buy made at my neighborhood Barnes and Noble. I had just finished reading Dark Nights: Metal: Dark Knights Rising (reviewed in last month's installment) from my local library, and The Resistance trade, which collects all the other tie-ins to Metal, wasn't available at the library just yet, but here it was for sale at a book store so what the hell.

There are actually four storylines in this 130-page collection: The four-part "Gotham Resistance" story arc which ran through Teen Titans, Nightwing, Suicide Squad and Green Arrow; the "Bats Out of Hell" story arc which ran through The Flash, Hal Jordan and The Green Lantern Corps and  two issues of Justice League; and then Batman: Lost #1 and Hawkman: Found #1.

As a whole, it's a pretty scattershot affair. That first story arc changes writers and artists with each chapter, and deals with Nightwing, Robin, Green Arrow and the Squad's Gothamites Harley Quinn and Killer Croc fighting their way through a radically altered version of Gotham City, which has been divided into domains ruled over by cosmically enhanced members of Batman's rogues gallery (in that it suggests a passage of Forever Evil). Damian's Titans and Harley's Squad get left behind early in the game, and what we're left with is this rag-tag adventure party, outfitted with metallic, medieval weaponry and battling The Batman Who Laughs' prize Robin, a nightmare version of Damian, all in service to a pretty minor plot point in Metal: Nightwing and company showing up at the Oblivion Bar.

"Bats Out of Hell" is an extended battle between the Justice League and the Dark Knights, mostly notable for some nice artwork from Liam Sharp and Howard Porter depicting the twisted Batmen in all their decadent glory spending more panel time fighting their League equivalents. (And, personally, I quite enjoyed seeing Porter drawing Steel again, complete with his big red cape.)

As for the one-shots, I had already read them both before, and they were both really unremarkable. Lost is written by Scott Snyder and collaborators James Tynion and Josuah Williamson, with four different artists, and gives us a glimpse of what Batman is seeing while trapped in his own nightmares. Found is a kind of dull recounting of Hawkman's stupid origin story, ending with a revelation of the form he ultimately showed up in during the events of Metal. They are perhaps notable for presaging the future though, as one of Lost's artists is Snyder's current Justice League partner Jorge Jiminez, and the Found team of Jeff Lemire and Bryan Hitch are currently producing a Hawkman book.

Overall, nothing in this collection is necessary, but like Dark Knights Rising it expands the page-count of Metal for any fans of the story arc--which is pretty much completely complete; Wild Hunt is the only really necessary tie-in--who want more of it. To keep with the heavy metal music theme that Snyder, Greg Capullo and DC were so enamored with, if Metal was a rock and roll concept album, than Dark Knights Rising and The Resistance are all the guitar solos.

The DC Universe By Mike Mignola (DC) This collects many of the odds-and-ends of Mignola's work for DC that aren't big enough to fill up a trade of their own, like Cosmic OdysseyGotham By Gaslight and so on. I'm only about 40 pages into this--that Phantom Stranger miniseries is rather slow-going for me--but there's a pretty random assortment of material here, including that Stranger miniseries in which he battles Eclipso, a surprising amount of Superman material, that very well-regarded issue of Legends of The Dark Knight that Mignola did with Dan Raspler, a story from a Swamp Thing annual and plenty of covers. The cover you see above is from the 2000 Lovecraft x Batman Elseworlds series Batman: The Doom That Came To Gotham that Mignola co-wrote and drew the covers for, but didn't handle interior art for; which is fine, as it's not in the colletion anyway.

Justice League #3 (DC) Someone remind me to stop ordering the Jim Lee variant covers for this series. I think Jim Lee is a pretty okay artist and everything, and in theory he would be just as good a cover artist as the series' interior artists Jim Cheung and Jorge Jiminez, but these last two covers have been pretty terrible images, with the figures oddly framed--note how much of Hawkgirl spills out of the borders of the cover, for example--and weirdly drawn. I have no idea what's supposed to be going on with her wings here, but they seem huge and it appears that the metallic feathers on her left wing are moving and flexing independently...?

Inside, this is another Jimenez-drawn issue, and Scott Synder's new League continues to deal with some weird shit following the puncture of The Source Wall and the arrival of something mysterious they're calling The Totality on Earth, while they are just not starting to become aware of the fact that the new Legion of Doom is circling them.

Wonder Woman, The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg combat "Ultraviolet Lantern" John Stewart, while Superman and Martian Manhunter fight inside The Totality, and Batman and Hawkgirl are inside them, in super-miniaturized, microscopic ships. They're unaware that the World's Finest's arch-enemies are also microscopic and in them too, though.

The Morrison-ish of Snyder's take on the franchise--which is not a thing I mind at all!--becomes ever more apparent, here with the appearance of "a sentient black sun" being drawn towards Earth, which recalls sentient, evil sun Solaris or the anti-sun of Maggeddon. Even the imagery of this new villainous star, Umbrax, as it draws near to and dwarfs Earth recalls that of those earlier stories.

The continuity of the series remains...weird. Earlier John referred to the destruction of Xanshi on his watch, and the fact that J'onn was present, which suggested that maybe the events of Cosmic Odyssey were still somehow canonical, despite the whole Flashpoint/New 52 reboot. But here John tells the story in a bit more detail, referring to a time when he and J'onn were both on the League (In current continuity, John was never a Leaguer, and J'onn was only briefly sometime around Year One or so, later joining other, short-lived super-teams like Stormwatch, Steve Trevor's government-sponsored "of America" Justice League and that even shorter-lived, task force-like team).

Additionally, John and Cyborg visit the old lunar watchtower base, still bearing its Bryan Hitch redesign; not only was the Watchtower era knocked out of continuity during the reboot, but the tower was leveled in Infinite Crisis, after which point the League abandoned the moon for Earth-based bases and/or orbiting satellites once more.

I am 100% totally okay with the original, post-Crisis, post-Zero Hour continuity being reinstated and over-writing that of The New 52 with a few changes, but I do wish DC would, like, to declare the fact that much of that continuity is being reinstated at some point. Or is that the point of Doomsday Clock...? Is the DCU going to get back the decade or so that Doctor Manhattan or whoever apparently stole, as per DC Universe: Rebirth...?

Justice League #4 (DC) Okay, so I don't know what Lee's variant for this issue looked like exactly (Wonder Woman pin-up?), but Jimenez's is okay. I'm not entirely sure about The Joker's hand on the cover though, nor his redesign of The Joker, which you can kind of see on the cover. Rather than the regular red lips, these are white, but spotted as is with freshly splattered blood.

In this issue, the bad things the Luthor's new Legion of Doom were working towards in the previous issue come closer and closer to fruition, and the League is so on the ropes that this would appear to be the penultimate chapter of the first arc...although the next issue is actually a fill-in issue focusing on the Legion, so we'll see.

This issue opens with a flashback to Gorilla Grodd's troubled childhood among the super-gorillas, which makes this the second comic featuring a flashback to Gorilla Grodd's troubled childhood among the super-gorillas DC published this month! (The other was in DC's Beach Blanket Bad Guys Summer Special #1, which isn't really very good, outside of the Paul Dini/John Paul Leon Mister Freeze story...although I suppose the Luthor and Deathstroke stories have their moments, too).

Man of Steel #6 (DC) After contributing just a few panels or pages to each of the previous five issues, artist Jason Fabok finally gets to draw an entire issue of Brian Michael Bendis' table-clearing, stage-setting weekly miniseries.

Much of the issue is devoted to resolving the Jon-and-Lois mystery which, as I stated previously, ended up being not really such a big deal and, in retrospect, the teasing out of it over the first few issues seemed like something of a cheat. I mean, don't get me wrong, removing Superman's wife and child from his life temporarily is a big deal for Superman, but the way that Bendis revealed this sub-plot made it seem like something completely insane and of incredible import was happening, rather than (spoiler alert!) Jor-El showing up to ask if he can take his grandson on a vacation through space, and The Kents reluctantly agreeing, provided Lois goes along as a chaperone. (Clark didn't go with because he figured Earth shouldn't be without a Superman for very long, which is maybe a bit of a cop-out--all of the Green Lanterns have, at various points, been able to commute to their space-jobs and still show up to attend Justice League meetings and participate in crossover event series set on Earth--but it also of the sort of hand-waving that goes on all the time with DC superhero comics.)

This issue also includes the probably extremely temporary resolution to Rogol Zaar's attempt to destroy the Earth, which turned out to be the extremely easy, point-and-shoot method that Superman could bust out to deal with any menace he can't personally wrestle into submission. That is, Supergirl fetches the Phantom Zone Projector and banishes RZ from this plane of existence.

There's also a brief sequence in which the Justice League dons parkas to watch Superman and Supergirl perform a ceremony mourning the millions of dead Kandorians that seems somewhat unearned, given the fact that Bendis seems to have introduced Kandor into the the current Superman narrative just to kill them all off for reasons that are...unclear. At least at this point. (I also had trouble figuring out who was supposed to be the ceremony; there's a two-page spread featuring the backs of the characters' heads and there's someone with long brown hair and a dark-skinned person with close-cropped black hair who is not Cyborg. It doesn't really matter, of course, if the former is Jessica Cruz or Kendra Saunders or a mis-colored Aquaman, and if the latter is Green Lantern John Stewart or Mister Terrific, but it is the kinda thing that bugs me...and, when I was a teenager just starting to read comics, would have bugged me even more).

There's no resolution offered for the rash of deadly arson in Metropolis, although the issue ends with a cliffhanger reveal regarding that sub-plot, so that, then, is something to be explored in either Superman or Action, but of which Bendis will begin writing now that Man of Steel is over.

Over all, this was a surprisingly strong series that, despite its missteps, demonstrated that Bendis has a reasonably strong take on Superman and the character's place in Metropolis, the world and the DC Universe, and that the long-time Marvel writer really has some interesting ideas for the near-future of the franchise. It also demonstrated that DC can hire incredible Superman artists if and when they really want to, so here's hoping we haven't seen the last of the likes of Steve Rude, Evan Shaner and Kevin Maguire on Superman comics.

If you've been hesitant about Bendis at DC and/or on Superman--I certainly was!--and sat this miniseries out, I'd definitely recommend giving the eventual and probably imminent trade collection a chance (from your local library, if you're super-hesitant), as it works fairly well as a transition between the pre-Bendis Superman status quo and Bendis' Super-books, and provides what I assume is a sort of mission statement.

Orion by Walt Simonson Book One (DC) Apparently, doing these review posts monthly instead of weekly still doesn't always give me enough time to read every new comic I bought or borrowed from the library in a particular month. For example, I have yet to crack the cover on this one, which is atop my "To Read" pile at the moment. Not that any of you need to know my opinion on the book. Presumably, all of the information you might need to know about this book before deciding whether or not it was for you is right there in the title.

Rogue and Gambit: Ring of Fire (Marvel Entertainment) I bought this because Kelly Thompson wrote it, but I pretty quickly discovered that my childhood affection for Rogue and Gambit from that awesome/terrible X-Men cartoon mainly had to do with the sound of their voices and their outrageous accents. Thompson does have Rogue say "sugah" a lot and Gambit slipping into French, but I'm afraid it's just not the same.

The focus of the five-issue miniseries, drawn by Pere Perez, is the nature of the pair's on-again, off-again romantic relationship, and while it's not presented as if extensive knowledge of their continuity is required going in, I have to imagine it helps, as they talk about it a lot throughout.

Having now read it--just recently, after the events of another X-Men comic that retroactively explains why this series exists at all--I find myself curious as to how readers might have received this as it was being published sequentially. After all, a miniseries about Rogue and Gambit getting back together seems a little...random, particularly as the exterior conflict that serves as springboard for that result is rather transparently crafted to get them there. In other words, this all reads a bit like a conclusion that generated a story, rather than the other way around.

Current X-Men leader Kitty Pryde recruits Rogue and Gambit to go semi-undercover as a couple to infiltrate a sketchy couples retreat resort that promises to help mutants move past their trauma, but what seems to be happening is that the mutants who sign up go missing. As to why these two are chosen, the in-story reason is that they need to a believable couple to get past the screening process, and Kitty doesn't want to go there herself with Colossus, so they're up.

The process seems to be working, as the two hash out their past with one another, but they also seem to be forgetting things and losing power as they get happier.That's because the mutant running the place, a new mutant named Lavish, has a weird power which allows her to drain memories and powers from individuals and create "golems" of the drainees to house those powers and memories. So, kinda sorta a mixture of Jamie Madrox, Rogue and a psychic, in terms of power set...?

Where this all leads to, of course, is Rogue and Gambit being able to come to terms with their long history together and all its attendant baggage by literally punching a horde of avatars of that baggage in the face.

The resolution is itself strong, as they come to grips with the fact that there's never going to be some perfect happy ending for them, and they can either commit to their relationship as is or continue to wait for some perfect moment for that commitment and, well, you already know what they choose, huh? So I liked where it ended up, but I wouldn't mind this story lasting about 48-pages, instead of 100 or so. But again, I'm not really an X-Men person; fans of the the pair were likely to get five issues of them by a decent creative team.

For a far better-written and knowledgeable review of this book than you're getting here, though, I would refer you to an X-Men expert.

Star Wars Adventures #12 (IDW Publishing) This was an impulse buy, based mainly on how lovely artist Elsa Charretier's cover of young, happy Padme and Anakin is. The contents include the first part of a story in which the secretly-married senator and Jedi knight go to visit the space ship of space Norma Desmond Madam Synata who, spoiler alert, is in league with Count Dooku and his proto-Empire the Separationists or whatever they were called. It's only 12-pages long, and the most action-packed of those pages involve our heroes fighting droids dressed to resemble Ewoks and Yoda and other creatures and characters who have appeared in Synata's many space-movies and space-plays or holo-vids or whatever.

Charretier is joined by her regular co-writer Pierrick Colinet, but the art is all her and it is, in general, reason enough to pick a comic up.

The eight-page "Tales From Wild Space" back-up is by Scott Peterson and artist Mauricet, and revolves around Mace Windu aiding a despondent young blue female Twi'lek who is not Aayla Secura.

It's okay, but the total package reminded me that these read better in trade.

Superman Blue Vol. 1 (DC) I confess to having been a little surprised by the "1" on the spine and the fact that there was no sign of Superman Red or The Millennium Giants near the end of this book when I first flipped through it. I honestly thought a single, 375-page trade paperback would be big enough to contain the entirety of the Electric Superman storyline of the late 1990s, but I was obviously wrong. Like, so wrong.

In reality, after I double-checked on, it looks like this volume is really only about the first quarter or so of that storyline, as it contains just three issues apiece of the four Superman ongings and a single annual; it might actually take five or six volumes to contain the whole series, depending on whether or not they include all the Millennium Giants tie-in issues, as well as various Superman annuals, specials and whatnot.

If you weren't around at the time, the storyline was one of the then-seemingly constant status quo-shaking epic events of the period, playing out weekly in DC's "triangle"-numbered Superman books (That is, there were four Superman monthlies, each with their own creative team, but the storyline frequently moved chapter by chapter through the books, reading like a weekly soap opera and being created as if by a relay team of creative teams). They had already killed Superman and then married him to Lois Lane, among a few less momentous events like, oh, the destruction of Metropolis, and now they were radically changing the original and most iconic of superheroes, complete with a new costume, new powers and new weaknesses.

Because all of these changes were occurring in-story--that is, they were new to Superman himself, rather than some sort of reboot--they carried with them some real drama, as he suddenly had a learning curve and suddenly found himself rather de-powered (I think his actual power levels remained about the same, and he could still do much of what he could before, but the ways in which he did it were all rather different). I wasn't a regular reader of the Superman books at that point (1997-1998), but obviously he showed up in this state in JLA and elsewhere (some of my favorite JLA stories, the one-issue tale of Tomorrow Woman and the two-parter introducing Zauriel, featured this Superman; writer Grant Morrison and Howard Porter had a great little two or three-panel scene wherein the "new" Superman is introduced into the comic by walking in on Flash and Green Lantern gossiping about they don't like his long hair).

The newlywed Superman is dealing with some typical Superman-type stuff--drama at The Daily Planet as Editor-in-Chief Perry White has reduced his presence while receiving treatment for cancer, dramatic goings-on in the bottle city of Kandor, Jimmy Olsen causing trouble as a TV reporter, The Atomic Skull breaking out of prison, Metallo going on a rampage--when his powers begin to gradually go weird and, for whatever reason, he begins to evolve or devolve into living energy.

He eventually gets a handle on things, thanks to a special containment suit created by Professor Hamilton from a special super-fabric donated by Lex Luthor, and The Man of Steel becomes The Man of Energy. As I said, he still has the same basic level of power, and can do many of the same feats--fly, move super-fast, lift heavy objects, zap things with his eyes--but they are all accomplished quite different. Additionally, now he is no longer always Super-; when he is in Clark Kent form he is truly human, and as vulnerable as the next guy (I do remember, at the time, that some fans suspected that this change was made so that Clark and Lois would be able to conceive a child together; that obviously didn't happen).

While all of this is going on, a big, blue, horned alien named Ceritak who escaped from Kandor and started wandering around Metropolis, where he was given the name "Scorn," started filling-in for Superman and befriended a blind girl who is the daughter of a conservative columnist at the Planet designed to resemble Rush Limbaugh for some reason. The Ray guest-stars briefly in one issue, giving Superman advice on being an energy being, Booster Gold comes to Metropolis for an issue and gets a new (and nice-looking) costume upgrade and The Atom guest-stars in a four-issue arc in which he and Superman journey within Kandor (which, at this point, was a completely different place than the Kryptonian city full of microscopic Kryptonians shrunken by Brainiac).

The 12 issues of the regular comics, three apiece from Action, The Adventures of Superman, Superman and Superman: The Man of Steel are written by Dan Jurgens, Karl Kesel, David Michelini and Louise Simonson, and the art is, predictably, all over the place. Most of it comes from Ron Frenz (who actually designed the new Superman), Tom Grummett and Jon Bogdanove (who is pretty great with the Kirby-esque Ceritak/Scorn), although there are also some surprises, like Stuart Immonen, whose work has evolved so much since 1997 one might have a hard time recongizing his linework here if they are only familiar from his work in the last decade or so.

The volume concludes with Superman Annual #9, and this was when DC was doing line-wide themed annuals. The theme for 1997 was "Pulp Heroes," which basically just meant a fully-painted cover and a story that had one-foot in an old-school pulp fiction genre, like true detective or crime, westerns and so on. This one, "Black Crucible," was written by Dan Jurgens, penciled by Sean Chen and inked by Brett Breeding, and was done in the action-adventure mode of a sort of Doc Savage adventure, with questionable exoticism playing a big role.

When Jimmy Olsen is targeted by a cult of robed, hooded figures in the Asiatic, mountainous country of Bhutran, Clark, Lois, Bibbo and a lawyer friend all follow Jimmy and end up fighting rickety old planes, being tossed in tanks of sharks and running around a mountain temple slugging people. Clark even gets his shirt shredded, Doc Savage-style. Speaking of Savage, he and his team make a kinda sorta unofficial cameo, appearing only in silhouette in a few panels that are vague enough I had to Google the clues offered to make sure that is, indeed, what Jurgens was going for. I'm curious if the other three annuals will appear at the beginning of Superman Blue Vol. 2, or if they will be parceled out a bit...if they are even included.

There's a little bit of bonus back matter, including a few prose pages from Jurgens explaining where the idea came from. Apparently, colorist Glenn Whitmore was suggesting they revisit the Superman-Red, Superman-Blue story, and somewhere along the line that merged with the Superman conference's other perennial ideas to change the character's costume and/or powers temporarily. There's also Jurgens' original design work on Scorn, who was originally going to be named Tusk; I think I would have preferred to see some of these alternate Superman costume designs. Maybe in later volumes...?

Superman: Zero Hour (DC) I speculated at some length about the potential for such a book last year, when writing about Batman: Zero Hour, so I'm glad to see that it came into existence after all (And now I'm curious to see if DC continues with Zero Hour collections; Justice League: Zero Hour was the other one I thought about, although as I said at the time there would have been a couple of different ways to make such a collection, given the smaller size of the Justice League family of books compared to the Batman and Superman lines circa 1994).

It is so like last year's Batman collection, that I fear repeating myself too much by writing about it at too great length. As with the previous collection, this lacks any sort of introduction about what the heck "Zero Hour" is, exactly, save for a paragraph or so on the back cover:
Time is collapsing in on itself. The villainous Extant has ushered in a series of black holes that are swallowing the universe--past, present and future! Superman, like everyone else in the DC Universe, has seen time loops affect his life.
Obviously, this is meant to read as a companion of sorts to Zero Hour: Crisis In Time, which provides the context of who Extant is, who he answers to, the mechanics of the time anomalies and how Superman and the rest of the DC Universe finally manage to save existence (while slightly rebooting several aspects of DC's malleable continuity).

Unlike Batman, Superman played a fairly major role in Zero Hour, being the character who rallies the rest of the world's superheroes and being present at the final battle with the main antagonist and the re-creation of the universe at the climax. In this collection though, we get "anomaly" issues of the four Superman titles of 1994--Action Comics, Adventures of Superman, Superman and Superman: The Man of Steel, and then the "#0" issues of each. These are then followed by the anomaly issue and zero issue of Superboy (already rather recently collected in Superboy Vol. 1, reviewed here) and finally, the anomaly issue and zero issue of Steel (a collection of which I can't imagine taking too much longer to see print).
Of the first category, the most fun of the lot is probably Louise Simonson, Jon Bogdanove and Dennis Jankes Man of Steel #37, the one where multiple Batmen from multiple time-lines all come to Superman for aid at the same time. I imagine Bogdanove must have had a ball on this issue, as he doesn't really draw his own version of the Batman from, say, Detective #27 or The Dark Knight Returns so much as he apes the style of Bob Kane (or "Bob Kane") and Frank Miller, so that the Batmen moving around throughout the book are more intentional, naked "swipes"--Bogdanove keeps poses and everything--than homages.

There's a plot to the issue, and as this was during the "triangle" era of Superman comics, sub-plots moved through all four books to form what was basically a weekly Superman narrative, but the pleasure of the book was seeing panels in which a Neal Adams Batman and a Frank Miller Batman talked to long-haired, 1994 Superman--and then first appearance Batman would swoop in. As the story progresses, the Batmen morph into other Batmen, so that in mid-sentence an Adams-style Batman became Norm Breyfogle's Batman.

In the issues that follow, Superman's still-living Kryptonian parents come to take him back to un-exploded Krypton; Superman finds himself in an alternate reality version of Metropolis wherein Alpha Centurion has replaced him as the city and the world's foremost hero; and, finally, he finds himself in an alternate past where he died as a baby, fighting alongside his a Ma and Pa Kent who don't recognize him...right up until reality is erased, the book's panels fading to white in what was at the time a pretty dramatic rendering of the end of the world in comics form.

The four #0 issues differed from those of the Batman franchise as they don't really tell Superman's origin exactly, but a four-part story about a new villain who is desperately trying to use his super-powers and his extensive organization to kill off Clark Kent, a villain who grew up in Smallville alongside Clark, necessitating flashbacks to various points in Superman's pre-Superman life. In that regard, we gets bits and pieces of Superman's childhood and coming-of-age, but the focus is more on the new character than on the one whose origin everyone knew (I don't recall Zero Hour changing the post-Crisis, Man of Steel origin of Superman in any significant way).

The Superboy stories by writer Karl Kesel and artists Tom Grummet and Doug Hazelwood I've already discussed, but in the first "our" Superboy finds himself in Smallville alongside the original, "adventures of Superman when he was a boy" version, which includes one of my favorite sequences (page 15...Man, I love that sequence so much!), and in #0 Superboy reviews his origin, his first encounter with Sidearm and he gets new glasses that give him Superman's vision powers.

The Steel issues are both written by Louise Simonson--this was well before the book would hit its later stride, under Christopher Priest--and are pencilled by Chris Batista. Steel is based in Washington D.C. and living with his extended family, who serve as the book's supporting cast, at this point in his short history. He's struggling against an extremely '90s supervillain team of a bunch of rightly forgotten super-powered characters throughout the issues. In the anomaly issue, a young John Henry Irons from the past shows up in the "present" of 1994 and sees his future self in action, not really realizing that's him in the armor and cape (as anomalies go, this was one of the less-inspired ones), and in the zero issue his then still-recent origins (remember Steel, like the new Superboy, were only about a year old at the time of the Zero Hour event) are recounted by various villains, both the team he's been fighting against as well as The White Rabbit, introduced in the pages of Man of Steel alongside Steel himself.

Overall, this collection isn't nearly as strong as the Batman one in any area, although it does offer a decent window into the state of the Superman franchise at a particular point in history. In addition to Bogdanove, Grummett and Batista, there's pencil art from Dan Jurgens, Barr Kitson, Jackson Guice and Peter Krause in here.

Okay, so I'm going to guess next spring brings us Justice League: Zero Hour, featuring the anomaly issues of Justice League America, Justice League International, Justice League Task Force and let's say Flash, Green Lantern and Green Arrow, and #0 issues of Justice League America, Justice League Task Force, Extreme Justice, Wonder Woman, Flash and Aquaman. I don't know, I don't have any idea on how they might group a third collection. (Like, there are several team books they could use, extending the concept of the League to cover the Titans, Outsiders, Legion and Primal Force maybe? I don't know...)

Transformers Vs. Visionaries (IDW) So when you buy a comic with the word "Transformers" in the title, you know exactly what you're getting, right? Wheeljack! Ironhide! Kup? Breakdown...? And...that's it. Maybe some cameos from the likes of Waspinator and Quicksitch. But that's it. Those are all of the Transformers. Those are all of the Transformers that appear in this six-issue crossover with The Visionaries, a relatively minor and unsuccessful** Hasbro toyline released in 1987, just late enough that I can remember looking at them with some interest in the toy aisle of a store--the premise of the line was kinda neat, and the hologram-like stickers were cool--but by that point was getting too old to have much interest at all in toys (And it would be another decade or so before I got interested in comics based on the toy lines I used to play with as a kid.

As to why writer Magdalene Visaggio, who created this crossover with artist Fico Ossio, decided to use just one tiny and weird handful of Transformers in a Transformers comic, I couldn't guess, but I suspect it has something to do with the IDW/Hasbro shared universe I've heard about, but haven't read anything from. The story certainly seems to be a continuation from something else, as it opens with a "Previously..." recap of six panels showing a bald, elf-eared, blue-faced wizard doing something magical on Cybertron. And when the story opens, the humans from the Visionaries lines--both the heroic Spectral Knights and the evil Darkling Lords--are living like refugees behind a forcefield on Cybertron.

The bald guy, who turns out to be the redesigned Merklynn, the wizard that granted the Visionaries their magical abilities, wants to overthrow Cybertron and eradicate the Transformers that live upon it, changing it into New Prysmos, as apparently something happened to their old Prysmos in...some other comic, I guess...? Neither the Spectral Knights or the, like, four Autobots on the entire planet like the current, tense state of affairs between their two respective toy lines, but Darkling Lord leader Virulina embraces Merklynn's vision. When they realize that the Transformers are particularly vulnerable to magic, they hatch a plan to push a maguffin to the center of Cybertron, which will kill off all Cybertronians. Leoric, leader of The Spectral Knights, and a handful of his fellow knights join with the Autobots to stop the maguffin and save the day.

Had I known the nature of the series--the extremely limited participation of the Transformers, its place in some already in-progress narrative that holds no real interest for me--I wouldn't have bothered with the series at all. Like I said, 10-year-old Caleb found The Visionaries line's mixture of bowlderized Arthurian legend with spooky holograms and magical powers kinda cool, and 41-year-old Caleb thought a crossover with the Transformers would be a pretty good way to see what they were all about. IDW didn't exactly telegraph that, though. The miniseries started with a #1, after all, and there's nothing on the trade dress to suggest this isn't a standalone series; I shoulda done a better job of looking into it before investing my $17.99 though).

The Visionaries are the real focus of this series, which could just as easily have been called The Visionaries on Cybertron, and while we get to see the many characters and there's a lot of drama between them all, with shifting alliances and betrayals galore, their own intriguing backstory is mostly just dribbled out in asides, as the present conflict of finding a new planet to call their own takes precedence over their past. Similarly, their powers are never really explained satisfactorily, or demonstrated in a way that is at all compelling. I feel like I had a better idea of how that stuff all worked 31 years ago than I do now, after having just read 120 or so pages about them.

Ah well, this will teach me to buy comic books based on their titles alone in the future...

True Believers: Fantastic Four--The Wedding of Reed & Sue #1 (Marvel) Given that Marvel releases their "True Believers" $1 reprints along particular themes each month, this particular issue was almost certainly chosen because it is such a noteworthy issue of a Fantastic Four run, and not simply to troll DC during their Batman/Catwoman not-wedding month, but, regardless, this was by far the best comic involving two costumed super-characters getting married that I've read this month (although it was originally created in 1965, so perhaps it has that advantage over Batman #50; it has been tested by time and not found too terribly wanting).

So as you can see, the cover here appears to be Jack Kirby drawing the entirety of the Marvel Universe as it stood at that point of time on a single page (although it looks like a few characters got cut off when they re-published this cover). For some reason, a huge star-burst is plopped right in the middle of the page, covering up who knows how much art, screaming that the issue features "The World's Most Colossal Collection Of Costumed Characters, Crazily Cavorting And Capering In Continual Combat!" I sort of just assumed that was Stan Lee being Stan Lee, but I'll be damned if that isn't the basic plot of the book. Aside from a few pages at the beginning featuring Doctor Doom plotting, and a last page featuring the end of the ceremony and the famous cameo by Stan and Jack, the contents of the story are basically just about every Marvel hero fighting just about every Marvel villain until Kirby either got them all in or ran out of space.

If you haven't read it yet--and why didn't you read it this month? The reprint only cost one measly buck!--Doctor Doom Doctor Dooms around his castle for a few panels before he sits down at his "emotion charger" in order to "Fan the flames of hatred in the heart of every evil menace in existence!" in order to transform Reed and Sue's wedding day "into the day of their final destruction!"

Meanwhile, at the Baxter Building, Ben Grimm is greeting guests while Nick Fury and his tea are providing security when the attacks start. Various Marvel heroes and appear either as guests or passers-by, and so the FF fight the Red Ghost and his Super-Apes, the original X-Men battle Mole Man and his Moleoids, Thor fights the Super-Skrull and so on until a catch-phrase filled panel of heroes and villains in full riot, after which point The Watcher shows up and takes Reed to his home and asks him to pick out a wedding gift, and Reed chooses a high-tech, deus ex machina machine that sends all the villains back in time to just before they attacked.

It is, obviously, pretty fun stuff, a classic of the superhero wedding sub-genre--one that was obviously on Judd Winick's mind when he married off Black Canary and Green Arrow--and a fast-paced who's who of the Marvel Universe circa 1965 or so.

True Believers: Fantastic Four Vs. Fantastic Four #1 (Marvel) It occurred to me with this issue that perhaps Marvel would be better-served numbering these reprints, at least each month. For example, if instead of publishing a dozen different FF-related True Believers issues all with their own title and "#1" attached, they could have published True Believers: Fantastic Four #1-12. I don't know if that would have really helped sell more or less of the things, but I would have been able to keep track of them a lot better, and, if I was inclined to read most or all of them, it would certainly serve to remind me if and when I miss a few.

Anyway, this one is from 1993, a period in time that was about as far from the FF's hey-day as one could get, in terms of the comics' market's friendliness for the Silver Age characters. This is the work of Tom DeFalco and Paul Ryan, who share a "script, plot & pencils" credit, and inker Danny Bulanadi, and it seems specifically chosen because it features the temporary replacement FF--when Marvel just used four of their most popular characters as an FF--duking it out with the real FF.
The era-specific signifiers here sure are something. That is, seeing the Big Two attempt to reflect what was hot at Image Comics at the time in comics that are quite poorly suited to doing so is always kind of interesting. Here that means the title characters no longer sport matching jump-suits, but weirder costumes. Like Mr. Fantastic has added an action vest on over his regular costume, along with some holsters, and Sue Storm is wearing...a skimpy bathing suit with a big cut-out for her abs and another for her cleavage, that one in the shape of a "4" (Stupid question, but can't Sue make other stuff invisible too? Couldn't she thus wear a full body suit, and make parts of it invisible, basically turning it into a costume like this? Just wondering).

Oddly enough, that weird-ass costume is actually kinda/sorta a plot point, as the now-arguing Reed and Sue bicker throughout, at one point Reed even says "We were battling a Rogue Watcher! What were you doing besides running around half-naked in that ridiculous new costume?"

Anyway, Johnny Storm is on the run from the law, as he accidentally burned down a good chunk of Empire University during a fight in a previous issue. Spider-Man wants to bring him in so the whole mess can be straightened out, and so he goes to Doctor Strange, who summons The Hulk, Wolverine and Ghost Rider Danny Ketch to help. This is already a terrible idea, as those three shouldn't be on the top of anyone's list when it comes to talking someone into peacefully surrendering to the police without violence.

Nevertheless, these four guest-stars find Johnny just as Thing and The Richards do, and the result is pretty trite conflict, wherein Spider-Man is like, "Hey Johnny, we're just here to talk" and Wolvie's like "Whatever, we're actually here to murder you." The fight has all kinds of weird goofiness, like the links of Ghost Rider's chain turning into flying stars (!), Reed telling Wolverine that he can't penetrate his body (!!) and, ultimately, Wolverine slashing Thing's face...which I guess leads to the period in which The Thing wears a bucket on his head. (It's a weird moment; presented as Wolverine lashing out in one of his trademark berserker rages, but he has the time to preface it with a few sentences of dialogue.

Anyway, this was mostly not-very-good-at-all, but I do like how goddam weird it was.

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol. 7: I've Been Waiting for a Squirrel Like You (Marvel) There is a page in Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #23, the second of the five issues of the series collected within this trade paperback, where I counted a total of 25 jokes. On a single page! Now look, they aren't all the greatest jokes in the world, and if you don't like puns, well, you won't like about 20 of those jokes--although there are multiple jokes about how many puns the characters are being bombarded with--but damn, that is a lot of jokes for one page of a comic book! I am relatively sure I have mentioned this in the past, but Ryan North and Erica Henderson's Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is by far your greatest return on investment when it comes to jokes in comic books. You just can't ask for a better value.

This volume is dominated by a four-part story in which Squirrel Girl, Nancy Whitehead and Tippy Toe go to the Savage Land and end up fighting Ultron, who is now a dinosaur, with an assist from Kraven The Hunter, who is also in the Savage Land for some reason (The "some reason" being, I suspect, that Erica Henderson loves Kraven The Hunter).

It's actually a rather well-conceived story that gets us to a superhero fighting an Ultron dinosaur, of the sort that could very easily have appeared in virtually any Marvel comic, although in nine out of any ten other Marvel comics the story would have been played a lot more straight, and there would be a lot less time spent on stopping to just marvel at the fact that, in the Marvel Universe, there are actually dinosaurs in this one place that everyone knows about (And, because Ryan North is a nerd, effort is also spent explaining why the Savage Land dinosaurs don't have feathers or dino-fuzz and thus don't look like we now think "real" dinosaurs would have).

Anyway, Nancy and Doreen Green, who are college students studying computer programming--which I find extremely dull, and I think it is a testament to North's skill that this is one of my favorite comic books despite the fact that I have never really gotten into computer programming, of which there is so much--enter a contest for young computer programmers, the prize of which is a trip to the Savage Land. Once there, they and the other contest winners learn that the mysterious alien machines that kept the Savage Land running all these centuries--or is it millennia?--are starting to break down, and they were enlisted in a last ditch effort to solve the problem.

As it turns out, the machine are breaking down because someone is stealing parts from them, and that someone turns out to be Ultron. A finger of a destroyed Ultron fell to Earth and landed in the Savage Land some time ago, and as it followed its programming to rebuild itself, it modeled itself after what appeared to be the dominant life form: A Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Also, there is a great degree of emotional content and inter-personal drama, as a trio of students from Latveria are among the other contest winners, and Nancy and one of the Latverian boys have a spark of attraction between them, despite the many quirks he shares with other Latverians, like total buy-in to the Victor Von Doom cult of personality (Hey, did you know in the Marvel Universe Doom penned a book entitled Eat, Pray, Doom...? The movie adaptation sounds delightful, too).

The fifth issue is the special "zine issue," the premise of which is that Squirrel Girl has enlisted many of her friends to create short comic strips to fill a zine to raise money to repair a local library damaged in a superhero fight. And so we get comics from Squirrel Girl, Howard The Duck, Brain Drain, Loki, Kraven The Hunter, Spider-Man, Wolverine, Tippy-Toe, Galactus and Nancy. In actuality, they are all written by North (save Howard's, which was written by Henderson), and drawn by Madeline McGrane (whose work was a revelation, and who I would really love to see more of), Chip Zdarsky, Tom Fowler, Carla Speed McNeil, Michael Cho, Anders Nilsen, Rahzzah and Jim Davis yes THAT Jim Davis).

These are mostly very short, very funny and/or very weird, with the exceptions being the two-page Loki strip drawn by McNeil, which is designed as a sort of swirl that reads completely differently depending on which direction you read it in, and the elegiac four-page Nilsen story, in which Wolverine contemplates his own prejudices and how they can impact his own efforts to defend a world that hates and fears him.

What the comic reveals is that apparently Squirrel Girl and everyone she knows can draw really, really well...except for Spider-Man, who can only muster stick figures.

Oh, and if you're wondering about Jim Davis--and why wouldn't you be?--he draws what are essentially Galactus-themed Garfield riff strips, with Galactus in the role of Garfield and The Silver Surfer in the role of Jon.

Finally, the trade includes a 15-page strip from something called A Year of Marvels: The Unbeatable #1 that I don't understand--I assume it was an online thing, maybe?--by Nilah Magruder, Geoffo and Siya Oum, in which Tippy-Toe and Rocket Raccoon team-up to fight Plant Man in a city park, where he has turned local trees into a reluctant army. It's...not that good, but hey, more content for your hard-earned $17.99.

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol. 8: My Best Friend's Squirrel (Marvel) The plot of the story arc that accounts for four of this collection's five issues is complicated, convoluted, somewhat shaggy and incredibly dense--which I really appreciate. How complicated, convoluted, somewhat shaggy and incredibly dense? Here, let me tell you.

Squirrel Girl's two best friends, squirrel Tippy-Toe and girl Nancy Whitehead, are abducted by alien squirrels after an elaborate attempt to trick them into revealing the way in which the two of them previously defeated Galactus (They meant to target Doreen and Tippy, apparently, but all humans basically look alike). See, "The Silver Surfer" recently appeared on their planet to shake them down, threatening them that if they don't pay up, he's going to bring Galactus there to eat their planet. This Surfer is, as readers will immediately recognize, just a guy holding a surfboard and covered in silver paint, but that's enough to fool most aliens who have had no prior experience.

Searching for clues to her friends' wehereabouts, Squirrel Girl realizes the only witness is Nancy's cat, Mew, who she takes in a pet carrier to various cat-themed Marvel superheroes, to no avail ("It's just short for 'Katherine,' Squirrel Girl, and I can't talk to cats," Kitty Pryde explains in one panel of the relevant montage). She then goes to visit Doctor Strange, whose post is apparently being filled by Loki now, and, since Loki is kinda sorta friends with Squirrel Girl and Nancy, he agrees to help. Then, after fighting Dormammu, they go to Drax and ask him to fly them into space to save Nancy and Tippy.

On the Squirrel Planet, the real Silver Surfer shows up, and Squirrel Girl and Loki have a spectacular battle with him. Then, when they realize their perfectly Marvel-ous mistake, an armada of ships armed specifically to kill the Silver Surfer for robbing their planets--that is, the crimes of the faux Silver Surfer and his gang--threatening them all. Then, when everything is explained to the armada, their fragile alliance falls apart, as the only thing keeping them together and from making war against one another was their desire for revenge on The Silver Surfer. And so Squirrel Girl has to solve all of their problems for them.

Whew! Like I said, it's a pretty complicated plot, especially given the short space it takes place in--just 80 pages!--but Ryan North and Erica Henderson do their usual job of packing it with so many goddam jokes it is remarkable. Truly, whether its jokes per panel or amount of time it takes to read a trade, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is the best value of any mainstream comic book on the market.

One of the pleasures of this particular story is that we get to see Henderson draw pretty much the whole Marvel Universe, as while Squirrel Girl is terribly outmatched by the cosmic-powered Surfer, Loki summons a dizzying amount of back-up for her, enchanting them all to feel compelled to defend Nancy and Squirrel Girl from the Surfer (These include "Beta Ray Bill: the Thor that looks kinda like a horse!" and "Hocky Hoof Hank: the Thor that's literally an actual horse!")

That four-part storyline is followed by a surprisingly emotional one-issue story, in which Squirrel Girl and Nancy are knocked out of synch with the rest of the world--that is, they are moving so incredibly fast that everything else seems to stand still to them, and their entire lives will pass by the time the weekend ends, if they don't find some way to build a working time machine and go back in time to before the moment in which they were knocked out of sync in the first place.

It's a pretty brilliant idea for a story, really--now I kind of find myself wondering why North wasted it on a single issue of Squirrel Girl instead of on an original screenplay or something--not because of the problem itself, really, but because of how North teases out what that sort of life would be like, wherein two people are kinda sorta the only people in the world, even though the rest of the world is still all around them, just moving so slowly their interactions with it are limited to interesting ways.

It's just as smart--well, smarter--and funny as your average issue of the series, but a lot more heartfelt. And it's no surprise that North and Henderson decided to do the story of this issue at this particular moment: That was Henderson's last issue on Squirrel Girl after...a lot of issues. Let's see...they published eight issues, then relaunched the series with a new #1, because Marvel is that's 40 consecutive issues, plus an original graphic novel. That's an unbelievable, almost unbeatable run for a modern Marvel artist.

I would be sorely bummed out, if I didn't know that Henderson's replacement was going to be Derek Charm, who, like Henderson, drew Archie's last volume of Jughead and is an all-around amazing artist.

This volume also includes all the usual extras, like Squirrel Girl's Twitter-like social media interactions with Spider-Man, Tony Stark and others in lieu of the traditional recap pages, the letter's pages, and short features like "Tippy-Toe's Guide to Squirrel Girl" cards and a two-page comic that seems to be taken from Not Brand Ecch detailing a dating app for Marvel super-villains.


Captain America By Waid & Samnee: Home Of The Brave (Marvel Entertainment) This is essentially just a six-issue miniseries by Mark Waid, Chris Samnee and Matthew Wilson, but Marvel being Marvel, it was pitched to readers as a new "run" on the character following Secret Empire, and was even published as Captain America #69-#700. It is good comics, though. Following their work on Daredevil and Black Widow, it presents a good third example for the fact that maybe Marvel should commission a series by Waid and Samnee for all of their characters; in all three cases they managed to find new takes on the characters that were nevertheless true to their original conception and core attributes.

I don't personally think the Steve Rogers Captain America character needed all that much in the way of refurbishing after the events of Secret Empire and its long lead-up, since it basically all added up to Cap's cosmic evil twin being a fascist crypto-Nazi, but many louder parts of online fandom disagreed. In either case, though, it doesn't hurt to have this sort of short series re-calibrating a character and getting them closer to first principles after an extended storyline like the one leading to Secret Empire.

So in the first issue, after a five-panel re-cap of his basic origin in the modern Marvel Universe, we get an interesting little story of the hero-worshipping kind that one might better associate with Superman than a Marvel character...although if any Marvel character could star in such a story, it's Captain America.

Shortly after being un-frozen, Captain America finds himself in Burlington, Nebraska, rescuing the town from Rampart, one of those groups with matching uniforms that the Marvel Universe is apparently full of. He returns to town a decade later only to find his actions in town that day resulted in them renaming the town Captain America, Nebraska, and their annual Captain America celebration in full-swing. He mingles with the crowd as Steve Rogers, listening to Captain America conspiracy theories from the hot dog guy while townsfolk take the stage and give testimonials about how great he is. And then Rampart attacks! And Cap counter-attacks! It's a perfect little done-in-one.

The next issue leads to what seems like it could be a new format for a new series, with Steve motorcycling from small town to small town, solving the problems he finds there on the way. In Georgia, he encounters a new Swordsman. Then, in the next, he finds himself captured and pursued by Kraven The Hunter, who is apparently a villain when not in Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.

That issue ends with a cliffhanger that I was surprised to see if only because it seems like the sort of thing that someone really would have had happen to Captain America at some point since his post-Silver Age revival. But I guess not, so good on Waid for one of those ideas that seems so completely obvious once you see it executed in a comic book, but that no one else thought to do previously.

The rest of the volume focuses on Captain America's battle to save a new version of America in a new far-flung future, which actually isn't as far-flung as he or we might hope, given how different it looks from today. In that future, only two of his fellow superheroes are still around.

One thing I realized while reading this series which I hadn't ever really thought about before was the fact that Marvel's sliding timeline means that Captain America was frozen longer and longer as the years pass on. That is, because he was frozen during World War II, that is a fixed point, but the Marvel Universe continues to be only about ten years old. So when he was discovered and thawed out by the Avengers in the 1960s, he was really only frozen for around 20 years. The world had changed a lot in that time, but not that much. Now, though, he would have been found and un-frozen, what, somewhere in the 2000s...? Maybe after 9/11 at this point...? That's more-or-less the case with the Captain America of the Cinematic Universe, but I guess I never really stopped to think about it in terms of the comic book Captain America before...

Detective Comics Vol. 6: Fall of The Batmen (DC Comics) This collection actually includes Detective #969, which immediately precedes the "Fall of The Batmen" story arc and which, incidentally, was the last issue of the series I bought and read before I decided I didn't care for it enough to keep buying it...not when I knew I could always catch up for free thanks to my local library. As I am now doing!

That first issue features Tim Drake's reunion with Stephanie Brown after he escaped from the cosmic jail Jor-El was keeping him in for some dumb reason, the Gotham Knights' blitzkrieg on crime that unsettles the city's populace, and the return of The Victim Syndicate, who Anarky Lonnie Manchin is now working with.

"The Fall of The Batmen" arc is centered on Clayface, who has been the out-of-place, seemingly chosen-at-random villain working with Batman's team of lieutenants since the book relaunched. This appears to be the climax of his character arc, and the reason why writer James Tynion included him in the line-up in the first place.

He's on the cusp of a permanent-ish cure to his condition--which, in this run at least, was the reason Clayface was evil, his inability to keep a human form for long also made him a bad guy, like, in his brain--but that's when The Victim Syndicate decides to strike. They take over Arkham Asylum (apparently all the regulars have escaped) and push Clayface to embrace his most monstrous self. As Batman and his team try to restore him to normal, or at least stop him from killing the crowds of protesters that Anarky and The First Victim put in his path, Batwoman takes matters into her own hands and executes him sniper style with a specially-made Clayface-killing gun that her dad gave her.

This makes Team Batman pretty upset, since killing people--especially with guns--is something that have a pretty strict stance on.

Tynion has done a pretty good job over these six volumes of building up to the character moments in this issue, but given how well I know these characters from previous comics, none of them ever really felt like themselves to me, and thus the resulting drama has all felt forced and artificial to me. I assume the mileage of other, younger, newer readers will vary rather considerably, though.

Even taken on its own though, some of the decision that some of the characters make don't feel entirely natural to me (like a weird little Civil War II-esque panel where Batwing and Azrael randomly decide they are pro-shooting enemies in the head with sniper rifles), nor do some of the choices Tynion makes, like, for example, Anarky turning on the First Victim, the story arc's big villain, and defeating

"You can't really think you can touch me when I'm in this suit..." The Victim says to Anarky after his staff bounced harmlessly off her force field, and then we cut to another scene, and a few pages later Anarky appears with an unconscious Victim (I suppose they are running a scam together, but that's not how it's presented).

The collection also includes Detective Comics Annual #1, which is a new origin story of the New 52 Clayface, who is basically Basil Karlo (Clayface I) with the powers of Matt Hagen (Clayface II). That's penciled by Tynion's first partner on the series, Eddy Barrows, and inked by Eber Ferreira. The preceding pages are drawn by four pencil artists and a half-dozen inkers. I like the work of some of them quite a bit--Jesus Merino and Phillippe Briones especially, but the book lacks any thing approaching visual consistency. The only really compelling visual components are Guillem March's covers, which range from pretty bad-ass... pretty bat-shit insane... pretty beautiful, like this sort of silly but still emotional homage to Jim Aparo's "Death In The Family" cover image:


Marvel Comics Digest #7 (Archie Comics) I know, it looks weird putting the words "Archie Comics" in the parentheses where I put the name of the publisher of a particular book in these columns, but that's the truth.

The Mushroom Fan Club (Drawn and Quarterly) Elise Gravel is great.

Sacrificial Princess and The King of The Beasts Vol. 1 (Yen Press) Better than it looks, I swear!

Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked The World (First Second) This is Pénélope Bagieu's follow-up to last year's California Dreamin' and it is amazing. As I said on Twitter, it's the kind of good book I feel really uncomfortable reviewing, because it's so good, I just feel like I'm gushing over it, even though it actually deserves all the good things one could say about it. Every Hollywood screenwriter, director, producers and actress with clout should pick up a copy and pore over it--there are at least 25-28 amazing biopics waiting to be made based on Bagieu's veresions of these women's biographies (although a couple have already been made).

*Permit me to go off on a tangent about how poorly conceived the events of Batman #50 were. Catwoman's rationale for not marrying her fiancee and ending their relationship was that in order to be an effective crime-fighter and superhero, Batman needs to be in a constant state of hurt and tragedy. This is a dumb thing for a character in a Batman comic to think, of course, and it's particularly dumb given the specifics of their relationship, that the only difference between them living together and them being secretly-married-by-a-blackout-drunk-judge is a piece of paper and so on. But! I think if there's one lesson we can learn from Batman's career is that he is always at his least effective when suffering from some fresh tragedy. That seems to be what King is going for here, showing a pissed-off and out-of-control Batman, if that really was Batman and he really was brutalizing Mister Freeze, but, again, that is a comic story we have seen over and over and over. Probably the most famous example is the period between "A Death In The Family" and "A Lonely Place of Dying," wherein Batman turns the tragedy of losing Jason Todd into fuel for a rage-filled, 24/7 blitzkrieg on crime that threatens to burn him out, hurt everyone around him and result in dead criminals. There are lots of similar examples--that stupid Mad Hatter story from the New 52 Dark Knight ongoing comes to mind, or even all those times Batman almost kills The Joker in fits of rage stories--but they tend to be short-lived and story-specific. As I imagine this one will be, too. The point is, a Batman suffering from a fresh and new hurt isn't a better Batman, he's generally a worse and sloppier one that needs Alfred and his sidekicks to stage interventions and pull him off bloody, unconscious criminals.

**By "relatively" I mean relative to Hasbro's G.I. Joe and Transformers lines. The Visionaries: Knights of The Magical Light toyline lasted all of one year. There was a spin-off cartoon series and comic book series, by many of the same folks who made the Transformers and G.I. Joe cartoon and an imprint of Marvel Comics, but those lasted one season and six issues, respectively. The cartoon made such little impact that I had literally never heard of it, and man, I sure thought I watched a lot of cartoons from ages, oh, 1-18 or so...

1 comment:

Brian said...

Put down every other book and read Simonson’s ORION. It’s just that good (I say as a guy who grew up on his THOR run as a child and then discovered Kirby’s NEW GODS as an impressionable teen)...