These comics are all from 1995 and 1996, but they are still moving forward with plot points introduced not only in the first issue of the series, but also from David's 1993 "Year One"-style miniseries Aquaman: Time and Tide, and even 1990's The Atlantis Chronicles (Also recently released in collected form; it's almost like there's some big Aquaman-related pop culture event coming up at the end of the year that DC is getting ready for...).
Speaking of "Year One," that was the theme of DC's 1995 annuals. This was, of course, back when the publisher a) released annuals once a year and b) made them all interconnected, either as parts of the same story or thematically. And it was one of the better themed crop of annuals, as it so flexible. Basically, all 31 annuals that DC published that year retold the origins or some aspect of the origins of the title characters, from the dawn of their careers (As for Batman, who starred in the rather famous late-eighties story arc that initiated the "Year One" concept, his four annuals that year were all devoted to his first encounters with particular villains).
The Aquaman annual was written by David and featured a framing sequence drawn by the book's regular art team, Martin Egeland and Howard M. Shum. The plot found a group of thieves in scuba gear invading the Aquacave in hopes of plundering Aquaman's treasures. One finds Aquaman's diary/The Atlantis Chronicles, and begins to read. We then transition into a few short stories about Aquaman's first meeting with Wonder Woman, his first date with Mera, his first meeting with Superman and, finally, the birth of Arthur Junior. The chapters are all additionally tied together by the fact that they revolve around Aquaman's contentious dealings with the Greek sea gods, Triton and Poseidon (Art is provided for these by Casey Jones and Craig Gilmore, Jake Jacobsen and Gilmore, J. Califiore and Mark McKenna and Jimenez and John Stokes, respectively).
The Wonder Woman meeting occurs when they were both very young; she was not yet Wonder Woman, and he was still in his Tarzan-esque, raised-by-dolphins phase. He follows Triton, mounted upon a whale, to Themyscira, where the sea god intends to ravish/rape Diana. Aquaman, then just called "Swimmer," tries to help and together they drive him off--along with an assist from Hippolyta and beachful of armed Amazons. There's a moment at the end where she stands on the beach of the island, where no man can set foot, and he stands in the water, and they look at one another. "Look...since I figure we'll never see each other again-I just wanted to tell you I've never wanted to kiss somebody so much in my whole life."
To this, Diana just replies, "I know."
And that is that. Having just reread this, I think it was another of the reasons I used to "ship" Aquaman and Wonder Woman, back before shipping was a thing, along with that scene in JLA 80-Page Giant #1...
The Superman team-up occurs a bit later, after Poseidon seeks vengeance on Aquaman--now wearing his familiar Silver Age costume--by sending a supernatural hurricane after him. Superman helps save him, but thinks he's crazy when he starts talking about an angry sea god as the source of the freak weather.
The final story is by far the best-looking, thanks to Jimenez's highly-detailed, George Perez-inspired pencil art and judicious use of content-rich lay-outs paired with splashes. As Mera is having a difficult time giving birth to their child and wants Aquaman to stay near her, he is told that a friend of his--the whale from the first story--is currently being hunted, and calling out to Aquaman for help. He must choose between his wife and child and the life of his friend. It's a choice arranged by a disguised Poseidon--wearing a mythological Odin-esque disguise of a billowing cloak wrapped tightly around him and a wide-brimmed hat, with his long, white hair and beard composed of sea foam--to teach Aquaman a lesson. As people believe less and less in the sea gods, they are replacing them in their heads and hearts with Aquaman, one source of enmity between Aquaman and these Greek gods, and Poseidon is there to basically rub Aquaman's nose in just how fucking hard it actually is to have to answer prayers.
In the 12 issues that follow, the mega-plot of David's run gradually begins to take shape. The Atlantean king is killed in one of the seaquakes rendering Atlantis' capital city of Poseidonis unstable, and Aquaman's son Koryak is looked to as the people's chosen leader. Meanwhile, Aquaman gets a new harpoon hand from STAR Labs with lots of new features--it's retractable, it has a grappling hook function, it can turn into a drill--and is faced with assassins and team-ups before he can return home.
He then stumbles upon some Chariots of The Gods-style ancient aliens business regarding the true origins of the Atlantean people, which warns him of a coming alien invasion. To fight it off, he has to find, unite and rally the lost cities of Atlantis
Meanwhile, various villains from throughout David's tenure reveal themselves as having something to do with it, including one rather unexpected one.
Early on, we deal with Mera, who is trapped in an alternate dimension by Thanatos, an extremely minor Aquaman villain from a long-ass time ago who looks just like Aquaman and wears his blue-and-white camouflage-looking costume, where she strives to protect AJ, Arthur Junior, who might be Aquaman's second son by her, or might be Thanatos'. She has an issue-long cat fight (would you be mad if I called it a catfish fight?) with Dolphin, but when having to choose between two worlds, ahw ultimately elects to stay in the other dimension with her son.
One of the things I appreciated about David's Aquaman--which I didn't start reading until 1996's #26, and then I started reading back issues from the $1 bin until I caught up--was how frequently there were guest-stars, which served to help ease a new reader into the narrative, as they offer easy entry points for potential new readers who are fans of the visiting characters.
These were mostly well integrated, although they occasionally seemed to distract. This volume includes a one-issue, self-contained team-up with Green Lantern Kyle Rayner (drawn by Calafiore) in which the then still-novice hero flies off to investigate a shark attack, and finds Aquaman there waiting, telling him to get lost, the attack was just a human/fish misunderstanding. In Marvel fashion, they fight, but ultimately reach a detente when Kyle proves himself to Aquaman (This would have been just a few months before Justice League: A Midsummer's Nightmare set the stage for the Grant Morrison/Howard Porter/John Dell JLA relaunch, in which the pair would become teammates).
Later, after Poseidonis raises itself and Thanatos-as-Aquaman sends out a threat to the surface world, the U.S. military sends the Justice League America in to investigate, and there they find and empty, ruined city with only Aquaman and Dolphin in it. It doesn't take long for them to come to blows, and Aquaman and Dolphin take on the entire (pre-JLA) League: Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, Obsidian, Fire, Ice Maiden and Guy Gardner (then in his weird, tattoos-and-body-morphing power phase). Aquaman wins, of course, this being his book, and he seems rather remarkably savage in his dealings with his colleagues--he napalms Martian Manhunter, for example--but the last page of the issue kind of explains why.
In addition to parts of the annual, Egeland draws eight of the 12 regular issues within Book Two, making him the book's primary artist (Calafiore draws three, and guest-artist Joe St. Pierre just one). I still really like Egeland's artwork, although there are certainly ways in which it may not age all that well with modern readers. His exaggerated anatomy, in which the likes of Aquaman and Thanatos are full of bulging muscles (Aquaman looks alternately "thicc" and "swole"*), renders all of the women as interchangeable save for hair color and costuming. Dolphin, who we see the most, is at once voluptuous and impossibly wasp-waisted, which would be fine if her exact body type wasn't also shared by Mera, Fire, Ice Maiden and even Wonder Woman.
Several elements of these particular comics probably don't age well at all, and I'm not even referencing the hair-pulling, garment-ripping Dolphin/Mera fight or Triton's decision to give young Diana "the honor of being loved by a god." In that Triton/Diana chapter of the annual, Jones draws Diana in a string bikini, and when Triton causes the sea itself to deliver her to him upon a wave, she is drawn with just her head and shoulders and butt breaking the water, as she flies butt first towards him. Later, that same issue, Mera gets drunk and gets her tits out at a party in a...not very Silver Age turn of events.
The uneven art, David's tendency to go for an easy joke whenever he sees an opportunity to do so and such elements that seem a lot more problematic among today's more diverse readership than they might have among the mid-1990s adult male demographic aside, I think this is still the best run on Aquaman post-Crisis, if not ever. (It was certainly the most successful; after David's departure, it continued for another 30 issues, making it the longest continuously-published Aquaman series.)
If I'm doing my math right, and there's no reason to believe I am, it looks like two more volumes will complete a collection of David's run (there are 26 more issues left in it, plus two annuals, although I believe one of those is a non-canonical onel, being from the "Legends of The Dead Earth" year), a run which ended extremely abruptly, due to what I recall being strong disagreements between David and the book's then editor, necessitating a two-issue clean-up arc by guest-writers, an then somewhat troubled runs by writer Erik Larsen and Dan Jurgens.
Meanwhile, The Riddler (correctly) sees the raw talent for evil present in town jerk and prankster Reggie, and The Joker takes on the challenge controlling of a teenager's mind as a pet project, setting his sights on Jughead Jones.
Those are three pretty great sub-plots to fold into the overarching storyline, that of Batman's rogues gallery targeting the Batman-less town of Riverdale, and it doesn't even account for all of the sub-plots, as Batman and Alfred pursue Bookworm back in Gotham.
I again went with the Mike Allred cover, because Mike Allred is the very best, but there are five other variants for this issue of this title, which is probably best bought in the eventual collected format, so one need not have to pick and choose between the various covers. Although, as previously stated (in the prior sentence), Mike Allred's covers are the best covers.
This one is slightly more exciting than the last few Jones-drawn DC comics I've read though, as he isn't teamed with the late Len Wein (as he was on his last few projects, which starred Swamp Thing but guest-starred Batman), nor his most recent Batman collaborators, Doug Moench and Steve Niles. Rather, Jones is drawing his inimitable Batman and his version of Gotham City from a script by Scott Peterson, who was an editor with the Batman in the good old days.
And better yet? The premise for this six-issue miniseries is supposed to be a conflict with The Scarecrow, my favorite Batman villain (and one of my favorite comic book characters, period, for reasons I've ranted and raved about on my blog before). The Scarecrow actually plays a fairly small role in this particular issue, appearing in just four panels, but The Joker is present throughout much of the issue, and there's a decidedly large swathe of name Batman villains, giving Jones the opportunity to draw much of Batman's rogues gallery (We've seen him draw all of these guys before, of course; I think Bane is the only character Jones hasn't drawn at some length before, although, I've seen his Bane on so many of his cover work from the "Knightfall" period that there was nothing too terribly exciting or unexpected about his appearance within. In fact, all of the characters hew extremely close to the ways in which Jones drew them during his 1995-1998 run on Batman).
I've already gushed a bit about the virtues of Jones' art within this story, but I didn't talk about the writing as much in that previous post. The story opens at the climax of an in-progress Batman/Joker conflict (Jones' Joker here is an unsettling mix of Caesar Romero's and Jack Nicholson's Joker; he was one of the few villains I don't think Jones managed to nail during his Batman run, so it's nice to see him get another bite at that particular apple). After a spectacular set-up and fight-scene, Batman sticks his foe in a straight-jacket and puts him in the backseat of his Batmobile (here drawn to resemble that from The Animated Series, albeit practically encrusted with primary-colored buttons on the inside) and speeds towards Arkham, all the while Joker talks to him, semi-psychoanalyzing The Dark Knight.
Once at the asylum--amusingly, Batman parks his big rocket-powered hearse right in front of a sign reading "No Parking/Staff Only"--Batman turns over The Joker and takes some abuse from a mental health professional who understandably has issues with Batman's approach to crime-fighting and dealing with the mentally ill. That provides just enough distraction for someone to release The Joker and a who's who of Batman villains: The Penguin, The Riddler, Two-Face, Poison Ivy, Killer Croc, Mister Freeze and Bane (Believe me; I did stop to wonder if Penguin and Bane should be there or not, as neither is typically regarded as criminally insane in the way that those others are).
They are all introduced in a neat page that includes a tier of thin, vertical panels devoted to a slice of each one's face, and then Batman uses a gadget to knock out the lights and take them all on in the dark. It's a pretty amazing scene, just as artfully presented as the first fight scene, with one page in particular standing out as one of the better-arranged pages of a super-comic of recent vintage that I can recall.
It's just three panels. After a page of Batman knocking them all around in the dark, Ivy finds a match. The first panel, which fills one quarter of the page, has her lighting the match with a "PTSH" and saying "OH," as her widened eyes sees something off panel. The other characters are all clustered around her, looking all around in different directions for Batman (the great size differentials between them all allows Jones to fit them all into a single panel fairly easily). The next panel, immediately to the right of the first, shows us what Ivy saw: A determined looking Batman seemingly flying straight at them with clenched fists. The third and final panel, which fills the bottom half of the page, is that perfect one of Batman flying at them like a comet, appearing to bowl them all over with a single punch that connect to each of them at some point along its arc.
You can take anything I say here with a grain of salt based on my affection for Jones and enthusiasm about his work, but I thought this was great, and it exceeded my rather considerable expectations.
It may be worth noting that based on the characters and costume designs, the story seems to be either set sometime in the past--after "KnightQuest", before Flashpoint--or in its own discrete continuitiverse, but there's so far nothing to suggest such a dramatic departure that this should be considered non-canonical (that is, Batman's not a vampire, this isn't set during the Civil War, etc).
Also, though this is a $3.99 comic, it is 22-pages, some of those pages have so many panels they make up for all the splash pages, and there's a really nice paper stock here that I've noticed in a handful of other recent DC comics.
And that is all. I dropped Batman, but I don't think I'll be missing the flagship Batman title at all for the next six months at least, thanks to Kings of Fear.
the first issue of this sequel series, I still picked up the collection of this second Tynion/Williams crossover between the two franchises, because if there are three things I like, it is 1) comic books, 2) Batman and 3) the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (and, honestly, much of what I didn't like about the original was the way in which the crossover was treated as just another modern Batman or IDW TMNT comic, rather than a first-time-in-history crossover; it lacked a sense of import and occasion, reading more like, say, Daredevil/Batman than JLA/Avengers, if you're familiar with those particular inter-company crossovers)
Knowing what I was getting into this time, my disappointment level wasn't quite so high...and the fact that this was the third crossover between the groups of characters (Remember, IDW publishied a Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures miniseries pairing The Animated Series characters with those from the Nickelodeon TMNT show in between the two Tynion/Williams series) in just three years meant that the expectation that there be an "ultimate" crossover felt ungrounded. If they keep this up, perhaps they will get to everything that would be cool to do eventually...and man, there is a lot that would be cool to do. I've kinda given up on ever being a professional comics writer when I "grow up" at this point in my life, but God, I could brainstorm Batman/TMNT crossover ideas all fucking day...
I was pretty pleased to see that this was extremely easy to follow, given that I haven't read any of IDW's TMNT comics since the last crossover (Consulting my bookshelf, it appears that TMNT Vol. 9: Monsters, Misfits and Madmen was the last collection of the ongoing I read, although I did read and enjoy Bebop and Rocksteady Destroy Everything). There are a few allusions to characters and plot points from the series, I suppose, but then all of the characters who appear in here are pretty well-known from the many, many comics, cartoons and movies. I was also pleased to see so many more supporting cast members appear. While the original mainly featured Splinter and the Turtles and Batman, in this story Batman and Robin both travel to the Turtles' world and Casey Jones, April, Batgirl and Nightwing all play roles in the series as well.
Having already established that Batman lives in an alternate dimension accessible by a special machine in the Turtles' universe and that he is now kinda sorta friends with them from the first series, here Tynion produces a more character-focused story. In the opening issue, the Turtles are intervening in a Foot Clan ninja civil war, and Donatello gets pretty badly beaten until his brothers arrive to save him.
Tired of being the weakest and least skilled fighter of the group, and not satisfied by being the smartest, he decides to seek out Batman for advice, given that Batman is both a bad-ass fighter and a super-genius.
|I mean, that's been canon ever since we learned who Batman was and how he came to be.|
The conflict just gets bigger and sillier from there. Batman, Robin, Splinter, The Turtles and their allies launch an assault on Bane, and it goes so badly that Splinter is injured and near-death. Donatello decides to take Venom himself to become a better fighter, while some of the others take Splinter back to the DCU and dunk him in a Lazarus Pit. By the climax, the Statue of Liberty is wearing a Bane mask and Batman and the Turtles are joined by everyone from Shredder to Nightwing and Batgirl to make another frontal assault, although this time Donatello's genius is employed to "cure" all their enemies of their Venom enhancements.
It's all so over-the-top that it pretty quickly gets to a point where one need not--and probably shouldn't--think too much about it. By the halfway point, Tyinion has apparently grown too busy with his many other projects, and a co-writer is brought in to write the dialogue for the second half of the series. That's Ryan Ferrier, and man, Bane's speeches gets awfully long and purple by that point.
While Williams wouldn't have been my first choice for a Batman/TMNT crossover a few years ago, or even in my top ten, I've really grown to like his take on many of the characters, particularly from the Turtles' world. There's something rather Jim Lawson-y about his Turtle anatomy, particularly in their limbs and extremities, although his rendering is obviously quite different; much more detailed and richly textured. (Williams doesn't work with an inker, but is here colored by Jeremy Colwell). His Batman took some getting used to, but I really love his big-headed, awkward-looking Damian, and am glad we got to see so much more of him in this go-around than we did in the first volume.
Damian's presence is actually one of the high-points. While Batman is totally cool with the Turtles, Damian badmouths them all pretty constantly, and he does so in some pretty anti-mutant ways that makes him sound a little like a bad guy in an X-Men comic book at points.
Damian naturally irritates Raphael the most, and their dislike for one another is perhaps the most engaging of the sub-plots. It's actually incredibly easy to forget that these ninja turtles are all supposed to be teenagers, and this series does a good job of keeping that in mind, both in the way they are in awe of Batman, the way they interact with Robin, and in the last few panels of the story, where Batman addresses Donatello's original concerns.
I did not much care for Williams' Bane, and the way he drew everyone who takes Venom--in addition to the Foot Clan ninjas, Bebop and Rocksteady get super-swole on Venom--but then, that seems to be in keeping with Tynion's script, rather than a style choice of Williams' own. Suffice it to say that Venom is treated less like a steroid here and more like something akin to helium, as everyone who takes it essentially going through a transformation that is more Bruce Banner-to-Hulk than anything else.
Anyway, this might have read poorly serially--like, I read the first issue but didn't feel compelled to pick up #2-#6--but I thought it read just fine as a big, dumb crossover event with some engaging moments in it if taken all in one sitting like this. Also, you pretty much have to trade-wait these, as that's the only way you can be sure you get all the Kevin Eastman variant covers, and I don't know about you, but I don't know that I'll ever get sick of seeing Kevin Eastman drawing Batman.
Williams' cover for #6, though, which shows everyone atop the Statue of Liberty?
Michael Zulli's TMNT look like Michael Dooney's.
And that was the last I saw of that story (Although it was eventually published as a four-part miniseries under the title Bodycount by Image Comics in 1996, which was the same year Image launched the third volume of TMNT; I had completely skipped that part of TMNT publishing history). In that regard, then, I guess I've been waiting about 14 years to see what happens after Raphael jumped into the alley, brandishing huge sai that looked a bit more like broadswords and gritting his teeth while uttering his only line of dialogue: "HEH..."
When the collection arrived, in the form of a 112-page hardcover with a brand-new cover featuring much more subdued and on-model versions of the characters, there were a few other little surprises. One was that despite what it might say if you google the book, it doesn't say "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" in the title...or anywhere outside of the fine print on the title page, actually; that image of Raphael and the names on the bomb in Casey's hand are as close as the book comes to acknowledging its relation to the now Nickelodeon-owned multi-media franchise.
The other was that this is published under Top Shelf Productions, the independent comics publisher that IDW absorbed as an imprint several years back. The regular Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic, the fifth volume, is published by IDW, and all of the old Eastman projects that have been rescued and reprinted, regardless of intended audience (Zombie War, Fistful of Blood, Underwhere) have all been published under the IDW banner.
Now, this separation makes some degree of sense, because this comic is an incredibly violent one...far more violent than anything from Eastman and Peter Laird's original black-and-white volume of TMNT, when the guys regularly killed their foes and inky blood was a familiar sight during the fight scenes. In fact, it seems like the comic turned out much more ultra-violent than even Eastman himself intended, based on what he writes and shares in the seven pages of back matter that follow the conclusion of the story. The original idea was to do a Turtles-verse homage/parody of John Woo Hong Kong action flicks, but Bisley drew it more Dead Alive than Harboiled. (Hey, remember when John Woo was temporarily attached to a TMNT film that ended up being 2007's computer animated TMNT...? Interesting to think of Eastman, a decade earlier forcing Simon Bisley to watch a triple-feature of Woo's early action flicks upon hearing that his artist collaborator had never seen any Woo films.)
It is also, I should probably note, kind of a dumb comic, if one tries to too-seriously engage with its plot, character arcs or storytelling ambition. It is probably best approached as a lark, of the sort Eastman, Laird and their Mirage Studio mates and the many guest artists used to regularly commit to during the late eighties and early nineties, when Laird might do an issue-length superhero riff and Eastman an Untouchables one, where Mark Bode might do a Bruce Lee tribute and Mark Martin a Batman parody.
The presentation Bodycount gets, however--a hardcover wrapped around some 100 pages--makes it seem like it should be taken more seriously, but, to do so is to invite disappointment. This is just Eastman and Bisley screwing around, the most relevant pleasures being Bisley's crazy art, and the way in which his very particular style meshes with that of Eastman (as I've said before, one of the things I've always appreciated about the old Mirage TMNT comics is the hybrid styles that emerged from Eastman and Laird's work with one another, and their frequent collaborators like Jim Lawson, Eric Talbot and Dooley; there's a pure Laird, a pure Eastman and pure versions of each of them, but so many of the comics they created featured elements of each).
I am going to write about this at greater length--What's that you say? No, of course the preceding seven paragraphs weren't long enough!--and hopefully with greater ability on display elsewhere in the near-ish future. I'll let you know when and where. (UPDATE: The when is now, and the where is The Comics Journal. Oddly enough, the same day I asked about covering the comic for TCJ, they had assigned a review of it to Matt Seneca, and, as fate would have it, Seneca and I have exact opposite levels of experience with the original TMNT comics. If I've ever been a fan of anything, it was the Mirage TMNT comics, whereas Seneca started with the cartoons and toys before even learning there was a TMNT comic, and this was his first experience with a Turtle comic. It's obviously not the best place to start with Turtles comics, but it's actually probably a much better place than, say, the IDW ongoing which, whatever its quality and virtues, is still the fifth volume of TMNT comics, not counting the ones based on cartoons. So be sure to read both reviews, huh?)
That Brute Force seems like an unlikely source for a multi-media adaptation is somewhat ironic, as the very welcome two-page introduction by character creator and designer Charles Viola explains that they were basically created in response to a 1988 request from Marvel for "Ideas for characters that would make good comics, cartoons and toys." The characters in this crazy-ass looking comic certainly seem designed with toys in mind; that explains the sometimes redundant vehicles, and the fact that the awesome-looking dolphin-with-robot-arms-and-legs above can transform into a race car of sorts.
Obviously the cartoons and toys never came, or I would have know what the fuck a Brute Force was before I saw this collection appear in the solicitations a few months back and thought it was so insane-looking I had to order it base on the cover alone, although it is not hard to imagine either of them. The heroes and villains look and even read like characters from a toy line, and it's easy to imagine what a late-1980s, early-1990s cartoon might have been like. Our heroes are devoted to defending the environment from a rapacious corporate villain, and there are themes and scenes that prefigure the 1990-1992 environmentally-conscious children's cartoon Captain Planet.
Hell, no more Brute Force comic books ever came, and if these guys ever appeared in or were alluded to in any other Marvel publication, I don't recall it. Perhaps that is due to the fact that the original four-issue, 1990 miniseries doesn't appear to be set in the Marvel Universe...?
While Viola created the concept and designed the characters and explains where the comic came from in the introduction**, in the comics that follow his only credit is "Based On Characters Developed By". Simon Furman writes the four issues, while Jose Delbo pencils and Mike DeCarlo inks.
The very first page is a delight. In the foreground, a scientist with a lab coat is holding a medical-looking tool and standing over the prone body of an unconscious gorilla wearing an oxygen mask and, oddly enough, a suit of armor with a bandolier across its chest, with a leather strap meant to hold it to the table bucked over it. In storm a quartet of clowns, one of which fires an uzi into the air.
The doctor, who has his long hair in a ponytail to let us know that he's a hip doctor, speaks for us all: "What the--?"
The clowns make off with the gorilla, who was in the middle of being upgraded with a special suit of super-armor that would keep him alive and was also being...ensmartened. With science. These clowns turn out to be patterned after Tastee Tony, the Ronald McDonald-like clown mascot for Tastee Burgers, the McDonald's like fast food-like restaurant owned by Flex, a corporation "involved in that South American rainforest clearance." This exposition is all yelled by Doctor Randall Pierce at his young son, who is enjoying Tastee Burgers right from the Styrofoam clamshell packaging that fast food used to come in.
To recover the rogue gorilla, Pierce reluctantly outfits the five other animals he has in his lab with armor and neuro-enchancer helmets that give them the ability to think and talk, and thus Brute Force is born. Roll call: Wreckless, the bear (armed with a "bearzooka"!), Hip Hop, the kangaroo, Surfstreak, the dolphin (with the all-around best armor and design), Lionheart, the, um lion, and Soar, the eagle that Pierce wanted to name Slipstream, but who thought that was a dumb name and so renamed himself immediately.
Their maiden mission is to go to South America to recover the gorilla, which the Flex corporation is using along with armed mercenaries to clear indigenous people from the forests they want to raze for cattle-grazing land. They perform adequately, but the gorilla escapes.
When we next see it, it has been dubbed Uproar, and made the leader of Heavy Metal, the CEO of Multicorp's evil animal mercenary force, using the research and designs stolen from one-time employee Pierce. In addition to Uproar, there's a rhinoceros named Ramrod, a vulture with a steel mohawk named Tailgunner, an octopus which stands high atop metal legs attached to tank treands and holds laser pistols in about half its tentacles named Armory (nice) and an insanely dangerous looking shark named Bloodbath, whose armor looks a bit like Surfstreaks, only instead of tires he rolls around on huge buzzsaws and he's covered in guns, missiles and sharp edges.
I...kinda liked it. It's obviously the product of the years in which it was produced, and it was pretty clearly targeted toward children, but it's no worse than much of the similar stuff of the era that it's so reminiscent of, and retroactively seems no less deserving of the long, nostalgia-driven after life that other comics/cartoon/toy franchises have lived off for decades. Perhaps it is just as Viola said and it was ahead of its time, or perhaps the fact that it never got a cartoon to sell itself with via TV is what doomed it.
The core concept---that of a team of vigilante superheroes who are actual animals--is actually kind of compelling, and lends itself better to modern comics sensibilities even better than it would did/would have to the intended audience of kids 30 years ago who played with Transformers and Battle Beasts and whatever. Not to dwell overmuch on the potential, but a team of animal superheroes with animal brains would certainly be different from all other superhero teams--especially in our current, post-Blackfish world, for example--and given how much the series seems to prefigure Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's 2004 We3 (the bear and rhino even talk a little like the cyber-assassin housepets of that later series), it seems like a rebooted Brute Force, which would basically be We3 with the politics of Morrison's Animal Man run, would be right up the aesthetic alley of some up-and-coming young comics writer in love with Morrison's comics (like Steve Orlando).
Because Marvel couldn't charge readers $24.99 for an 88-page trade paperback without feeling guilty, this volume also randomly includes 1989 one-shot Power Pachyderms, which seems to have started life as a reaction to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics phenomenon--it was originally advertised as Adult Thermonuclear Samurai Elephants--but eventually saw print as...Jesus, I don't know. It's vaguely shaped like a TMNT parody, having four anthropomorphic animal characters with ninja weapons as its stars, but is actually an X-Men parody...although in addition to pachyderms that are analogous to Wolverine, Cyclops and Colossus, there's also one that is Elektra for some reason...?
Roger Stern wrote it, Adam Blaustein penciled it and Jon D'Agostino inked it. The jokes are all pretty dated. While a lot of 'em are familiar from X-Men history, there's an extended sequence involving Three Stooges analogues, and the climactic battle includes Magneto parody "Clarinetto, former head of The Brotherhood of Evil Musicians!" siccing The New Musicians on them. These are clones of Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Prince and...Willy Nelson, I think?
It's a weird comic. It's not a good comic, but I am kind of glad I've now experienced it, as I've never read any of the TMNT "reaction" comics before, and there's something...interesting about the idea of a flagship comics company like Marvel Comics feeling the need to respond to, parody and/or try to make a buck off of those earliest Turtle comics...which were, themselves, created in large part as a reaction to and parody of Marvel Comics. Most blatantly Daredevil--I kind of still can't believe there's never been a Daredevil/TMNT crossover, but, at the same time, I kinda hope there never is unless it's a really fucking perfect comic book crossover--but, well, the "Mutant" in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles didn't just appear from nowhere, you know...?
Now stop reading my blog, go buy a copy of the Brute Force trade paperback and then write Marvel Comics a letter about how much you want a new Brute Force comic book series. (UPDATE: Oh, so you know what's weird? As I was reading this we seem to be in another dumb cycle of comics "fans" vociferously claiming that the reason they complain so much about comics starring or even being made by people who aren't straight white cis males, preferably 50 or older with long careers of making shitty comics, is that they don't like all the "politics" in comics. I don't really follow any of these assholes on Twitter, and there doesn't seem to be much readable comics news out there any more--I'm down to just The Comics Reporter, The Comics Journal and occasionally The Beat for comics "news"--so I am only vaguely aware of whatever these controversies are rooted in, based on seeing people I do follow on Twitter reacting to them. This round seems to have something to do with a poet writing an Iron Man spin-off comic starring Riri Williams, which is an insane thing to get annoyed about, although I also saw someone repost a video of someone stabbing Bordertown with a knife...? Anyway, it seems the cover story is not liking "politics" in comics, somehow. Anyway, I was thinking about that while reading this Marvel Comic for children from 28 fucking years ago, because it is political as hell. The first issue has a good half-page talking about how the fast food industry is evil, scenes about how buying fast food at all makes one complicit in deforestation and the assault on indigenous people and culture on another continent, the ethics of animal experimentation and a general indictment of corporations. And it just goes on to fill its pages with attacks, subtle and propagandistically in your face, agains the standard American diet, hunting, fossil fuels and on and on. It realy made me wonder what today's asshole comics readers might make of this; on the one hand, there are no black people on the cover--there are no people at all, in fact!--but, on the other hand, it's got a pretty damn Seirra Club-friendly, anti-corporate, pro-environment message permeating it, and rather often articulated in the actual dialogue...)
No, the thing that fascinated me the most about the show was that it was a show I could only watch when I was home sick from school, as it aired during a time that I was either in school or on my way to school. So unlike other, earlier 1980s cartoons like He-Man and The Masters of the Universe, Transformers and G.I. Joe, I didn't watch it regularly after school, and did not know it inside and out. Rather, I would just catch an episode or three--depending on how sick I was, I guess--every once in a great while, and maybe I could see five consecutive episodes during summer or holiday breaks.
So it was one of those cartoon shows of my youth--along with Robotech and The Mysterious Cities of Gold--that I've never actually seen all the way through and in the correct order. Cartoons I would just get glimpses of once in a while, and then have to fill in what I was missing with my imagination. My memories of it--and I've never re-watched it since my childhood, despite having just played the theme song a few times on YouTube--was that it had a pretty compelling concept at its core, and there was lots of cool stuff about it like the stuff I mentioned above, but that it was oddly a kinda sorta terrible comedy in addition to the sort of good vs. evil action cartoon typical of the era (For example, the two warring factions of an alien race making Earth their battlefield obviously was pretty similar to Transformers, but the robot warriors from Cybertron spent a lot less time engaged in weird, fish-out-of-water gags, and few plotlines seemed to revolve around misunderstandings of Earth culture).
Anyway, a new Dinosaucers comic book? Sure, that sounds like a thing I would want to check out!
The first thing I noticed was that this was going to be very, very different; you can see that right on the cover. That is Genghis Rex, who in the original cartoon just looked like a red T-Rex with slightly bigger arms wearing a futurustic space onesie. Here he is much, much more humanoid looking, in addition to being scarier and...hairier, I guess. Perhaps his mane is the so-called "dinofuzz" proto-feathers, though...?
The book is being written by Michael E. Uslan, who created and executive produced the cartoon series. In a few hundred word-long inside front cover introduction, he explains the pretty simple origin of the concept--his son was obsessed with dinosaurs and outer space stuff, so he combined them--and it is, really, a stroke of genius in terms of something-that-should-appeal-to-little-kids (and, um, 41-year-old men who remain very in touch with their dinosaur-loving inner child, like me). He further explains that the idea wasn't just to re-do the cartoon in comics form for nostalgists and/or a new generation, but a new, updated version with "a PG-13 rating rather than a PG rating..on a path already blazed by other cartoon shows of that era which have become major, new, branded movie franchises, including Transformers, G.I. Joe, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, X-Men, and more!"
Okay, those last two were actually comic books, and their most recent "PG-13" movies were adaptations of that original source material more than adaptations of previous animated adaptations, but point taken. And hey, I suppose it's refreshing to hear how up front they are regarding their ambitions, as he all but confesses that "We would like to see a series of Dinosaucers movies get made" in his introduction.
In fact, that might go a way towards explaining the rather radical redesign of the title characters, which are, in general, all much more humanoid than their cartoon forebears. The characters are all of a more regular shape, their snouts and neck-lengths and other species signifiers somewhat downplayed so that one could guess which species they are meant to be derived from, for the most part, but it is in no way as obvious as it would have been with the cartoon (Plesio, one of the evil Tyrannos who, for some reason, is dressed like the Pope in this comic, is white rather than pink, and looks more like a pale, long-necked Gray alien than the bipedal sea dragon).
Uslan is teamed with artist Andrew Pepoy, whose work I admire quite a bit (he drew some of the "sexy" variant covers for Afterlife With Archie and Archie Meets Predator, which was the greatest idea for a crossover series anyone has ever had), and colorist John Millet. The first issue is something of a slow opening, and I fear this might have been one of those new series where it was better off waiting for the trade, which I suppose I will do after another issue or two.
Much of the first issue focuses on "The Secret Scouts," the "four, ordinary teenagers" from the cartoon. Here they are apparently a bit older, with one of their number just starting work at NASA alongside his father, and the others some sort of hackers focusing on fighting global warming through...hacking. I didn't quite get it, but we're here for the dinosaur people, not the humans, right?
Ten years ago, the Voyager satellite gets sucked into a space ship resembling a dinosaur head, and the guy on the cover--Genghis Rex--takes an interest in it. NASA soon discovers that the satellite is somehow being used to triangulate Earth's position, by whatever hostile force captured it (Again, The Tyrannos). Men from "our new president's reconfigured Space Security Department" arrive and put NASA on lockdown (Unfortunately, I read this just a week after President Trump began talking about his "Space Force" again, so it was impossible not to think about Trump and Space Force while reading this).
Meanwhile, on the other side of the sun, that dinosaur head-shaped ship lands on the planet Reptilon, where Rex and his inner circle--looks like Quackpot, Ankylo, Plesio, Terrible Dactyl and Styracco, although most of them aren't named, so there's no telling if those names all carried over--disembark. Rex is the apparent ruler of the planet, which is faced with an environmental crisis causing a lack of food, water, breathable air and workers. So his plan is to invade Earth and plunder its resources.
Meanwhile, "The Resistance" (again, pretty hard to escape politics, even when reading a comic book about dinosurian aliens) lead by Allo and the other good guys from the cartoon show, learn of Rex's plan, and they decide to attack him on Earth, rather than on Reptilon, where he is strongest.
And that's the first issue.
It's deeply weird, as trying to make a more serious, more "realistic" version of that particular cartoon series would almost have to be, but deeply weird in a good way. Again, the pacing is a little slow for the era of $3.99 comic books, but I imagine it will read better in trade format.
The fact that its poor quality is so unexpected is due to its creators. A co-publication of DC Comics and Archie Comics, two of the longest-lived comics publishers with among the greater resources of direct market-focused companies, it is written by genuinely talented and quite experienced comic book writers Paul Dini and Marc Andreyko. It is drawn by Laura Braga and Adriana Melo (the latter of whom shares an art credit with the former on three of the six issues/chapters), both of whom are very good artists who draw well, and, while having shorter resumes than the writers, aren't exactly brand-new to the field or anything.
While the series' existence itself was not the most obvious of crossovers between Batman and the gang from Riverdale--the current Archie Meets Batman '66 is a bit closer--Dini and Andreyko have come up with a fine plot, all of the characters seem like themselves, they work in just about everyone you might expect or want to appear in an Archie comic and the dialogue is pretty strong (if you can forgive the writers for putting the word "amazeballs" into the mouth of a sixteen-year-old in 2018; perhaps the teenagers I am related to just talk very differently than those Dini and Andreyko know, though). And Braga and Melo's figure work is fine if mediocre--which I mean in the most neutral, connotation-free way possible!--if the idea was to go in a style that is more DC than Archie, and played straight and representational, rather than comedic (That image above, by the way, is Amanda Conner's, and it's just the cover. There were a lot of different directions to go with this, but since Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy are the odd ones out, I think it might have been the most fun to see the story drawn in a more Archie style, either like the one-time house style perfected by Dan Parent, or something more akin to any of the many great artists to have drawn for Archie since the reboot--Derek Charm, Veronica Fish, Erica Henderson, Audrey Mok, Fiona Staples, etc).
But the artwork doesn't really work, at least, not with the story. Sure, there are some continuity problems--and here I mean "continuity" in the film, consistency of imagery sense, rather than the super-comic sense--as Hiram Lodge's hair color changes from white to red to white, and his mustache and glasses appear and disappear throughout the story, and there are a few tellingly weird shortcuts that suggest perhaps there was a crushing deadline or some other rush to make this too quickly (For an example that will only mean something if you've already read it, there's a scene where some Gotham gangsters are scared away by Reggie-in-a-Joker-costume, thinking he's really The Joker, but later they see on the news that he couldn't have been the real Joker, as the real Joker was just arrested and taken to Arkham that day, and the image shown on the news in a story about the real Joker was an image of Reggie-as-the-Joker, repeated from earlier in the comic in order to spare the drawing of a new Joker headshot, I guess).
No, the real, more fatal problem with the art is how poorly it illustrates the verbal component of the comic. The words and the pictures aren't in conflict so much as out-of-sync, the latter too rarely matching up with words. Here is one of the more egregious examples, the one that really made me shake my head in wonder that DC and Archie went to press with this and then collected and reprinted it in a $25 hardcover:
They strike at a "Heroes and Villains" themed costume party, where Josie and The Pussycats are performing, Pussycat fan Catwoman is spectating (and not robbing Lodge while she's there?), and local magic enthusiast Sabrina (The Teenage Witch) gets to meet her idol, Vegas stage magician and DC-character-who-is-in-all-Paul Dini-comics, Zatanna. It just so happens that Betty is dressed as Harley (Hey, that's not appropriate!) and Veronica as Ivy, and once they come to blows, the magic ladies try to break them up with spells, and end up accidentally Freaky Friday-ing them.
So the Gotham Girls are in Betty and Veronica's bodies and trying to fit in with the cool teens of Riverdale (while sabotaging Lodge's plan), and Betty and Veronica are in Harley and Ivy's bodies, in Gotham City. Meanwhile Reggie, who went to the party as The Joker, got hit on the head with Harley's clown hammer, and he now believes he is actually The Joker.
Hilarity ensues for the remaining four-and-a-half-issues until everyone gets back into their own bodies and the day (and the swamp) are saved. Archie, Jughead and much of the rest of the gang appear throughout, but in supporting roles; the title characters from Riverdale remain the stars throughout, only really sharing the spotlight with Harley and Ivy. There is no Batman appearance--in another example of the art not working, there are several instances where Jughead is seen in silhouette, and the points of his crown are apparently meant to suggest Batman, but his silhouette isn't drawn even remotely Batman-like--but there was a rather unexpected appearance from one of Batman's staunchest allies, who of course happens to be tight with a minor Riverdale character, and seeing them together really made me wish that that would be the next Archie/Batman team-up, instead of another go-round with these two pairs of protagonists (which the last panel suggests/threatens, when Jughead says to himself "I hope she's up for a rematch..." regarding an interrupted burger-eating contest between himself and Harley).
If they do attempt another of these, I sincerely hope the powers that be consider a different creative team, or at least tinkering with it to find one that works together better. (Personally, I'd prefer a Batman/Jughead mini-series in which Jughead and Damian switch places on a bet or dare or some kind, so that Jughead becomes the new Robin and Damian attends Riverdale High, by the one-time Jughead creative team of Ryan North and Derek Charm, but then, I'm sure North could come up with a better premise than that. Anyway, just because this was a bad comic, that doesn't mean I don't want to see Archie/Batman mash-ups like, once a year for the rest of my life!)
While it's hard to read this as anything other than an interruption of the narrative, it was apparently planned in such a way to distract as little as possible from Snyder's story. It begins and ends just where the fourth issue did--with the microscopic Lex Luthor and Joker having hijacked the brains of Superman and Martian Manhunter and piloting their bodies toward The Totality--and in between it jumps back in time to explain how Luthor assembled his current anti-League, a new iteration of The Legion of Doom, starting in this issue with Sinestro and Gorilla Grodd. Again, it's not necessarily imperative that a reader find out the exact rhetorical strategies that the main supervillain employs to convince a couple of others to help him kick around their archenemies, but Tynion and Mahnke do a decent job of disguising the fact that this is a time-killing gesture and presenting an entertaining 20 pages.
Mahnke has drawn many of these characters over and over in his various runs on various books, so it's no surprise that he's basically mastered his versions of each, although it is still interesting to see his particular takes on those that he hasn't spent much time on, like Grodd, Black Manta and this current version of The Cheetah.
It will come as no surprise that Batman did not actually die in Superman's body, eaten by mutated Kryptonian anti-bodies, and that The Joker did not take the time to properly kill Hawkgirl after knocking her unconscious. And it probably won't come as much of a surprise that Aquaman, Wonder Woman and The Flash escape the traps their archenemies left them in, or even that the heroes manage to repel Sinestro from press-ganging the entire population of Earth to join his Ultraviolent Corps.
What may be surprising is the ways in which these victories are achieved (maybe not the Batman one, as that's basically just "because he's Batman"; I do rather like when Snyder writes him as an arrogant, blowhard whose dialogue sounds like lines taken from action movies, though...so far his Justice League Batman reads more like his All-Star Batman Batman than his Batman Batman, which probably doesn't mean much to non-connoisseurs of Batman portrayals, I know). And what almost certainly will be surprising is the symbol that appears above the planet Earth on the last page. I lost track of...that after the New 52 reboot, as Geoff Johns did a pretty hard course correction with where he was going in the pages of Brightest Day, and the Green Lantern books following his departure weren't very good, but I was pretty intrigued with where things were going at the climax of Brightest Day, as they were getting quasi-religious.
While not exactly narrated by The Joker, this issue is told from his perspective, which is a rather unusual choice, and isn't sustained throughout. Rather, Snyder seems to check in on him regularly as the story unfolds.
Rather, the story being told in these pages requires an artist with particularly strong variety in his character design and, preferably, a great ability to "act" through his drawn characters, as this arc is set almost entirely in the past and includes a team-up of sorts between the modern day, adult version of Peter Parker (that is, the character who starred in the last two volumes of this book) and his own, teenage self from...well, not the sixties anymore, but, like, 8-to-12 years ago, or thereabouts? Additionally, there are two J. Jonah Jamesons in the story, and the differences between the two of them require even more skill on the part of the artist.
Frankly, I don't think Kubert, despite his strengths and the virtues of his art, could convincingly pull off two different Peter Parkers, two different Spider-Men and two different Jamesons sharing panel-space together, not without the duplicates all look like themselves, rather than different versions of the same characters, differentiated by their age differences and, to a lesser degree, the changes in styles between the two eras. Additionally, Quinones seems to dial the style of his art for the older characters to give them the feel of John Romita Jr. or, occasionally, Steve Ditko characters. Occasionally its something big an flashy, like a swiped pose, but more often than not it's something subtle, like the perfectly straight edge of Past Jameson's flat-top.
Amazing Fantasy collects the next three issues of the one-year-old series--#301, #302 and #303, because "Legacy"--in which Spidey and his amazing friends super-spy (and fake sister) Teresa Durand and super-editor J. Jonah Jameson travel back in time to the beginning of Spider-Man's career in order to stop the events that lead The Tinkerer to become the civilization-ending threat he was by the climax of the last collection. For reasons I didn't entirely understand--"Time is broken," maybe?--they feel free to fuck around with the past as much as they like here, as it won't affect their timeline, except for the parts it clearly does because that's the whole point (?), so they split up to search for the Tinkerer. Peter teams up with his teenage self, and uses his far superior experience and knowledge of the future to help his teen self beat the crap out of his classic villains more easily than ever before, Jameson teams up with his younger self, and Teresa teams up with pre-pre-pre-pre-Original Sin Nick Fury...although she's got another angle she's working on.
Because this is still a superhero comic featuring Marvel's flagship character despite the fact that it is where the Howard The Duck creative team has reunited, it can't all just be scenes of Adult Peter Parker and Teenage Peter Parker comparing and contrasting their lives. Eventually, Team Future's screwing around with the past brings about a change for the worse, when The Green Goblin learns Spidey's secret identity, and goes after Peter and Aunt May at home, all of which leads to a climax in a fateful place in Spider-Man history: Atop a certain bridge.
The future gets saved, a potential bombshell that could change everything forever is dropped and Quinones gets to draw an homage to one more iconic Spider-Man moment. It's a lot of stuff for a mere 60 pages of comics, and it's pretty much all good.
Filling up the rest of the book (and attempting to justify the trades $16 price tag) is Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #1****, featuring a 22-page Mike Allred-drawn Jameson/Spider-Man team-up that is actually a really great portrait of a newspaper man in a post-newspaper world (as well as a decent distillation of the somewhat flexible-looking morality of Jameson, where he can appear to be the hero and villain of a story, as well as a supporting character, all at the same time). Allred is the ideal Marvel artist, and this story is, predictably, absolutely perfectly drawn. I'm glad we get to see some additional cameos too, if only to see Allred draw Ms. Marvel, The Shocker and Arcade. Then there's an eight-page story with the unlikely title of "Whatever Happened To The Spider-Man For All Seasons?" by writer Mike Drucker, penciler and colorist Chris Bachalo and--is this right?--five different inkers? That's less than two pages apiece! And these aren't particularly challenging looking pages; they average four panels, and there's little in the way of backgrounds. I guess maybe it got inked at the last minute, maybe during the lunch break Bachalo took between finishing pencils and then booting up his computer to color it...?
It's a short, jokey story basically revolving around how thankless Spidey's "job" can be, with a series of characters mistaking him or comparing him to Moon Knight for some reason, and what Drucker considers the inherent hilarity of The Melter. The title is another joke, but it doesn't really earn it, as there are no allusions to or commentary on either "Whatever Happened To The Man of Tomorrow?" (or "Whatever Happened To The Caped Crusader?", for that matter) or A Superman For All Seasons.
Even still, this includes 60 pages of Quinones art, 22 pages of Allred art and eight pages of Bachalo art--that's a lot of really nicely drawn pages of Spider-Man comics in one package.
I am somewhat curious about what prompted this particular pairing rather than Wacky Races; given the fact that Scooby-Doo cast possess a signature vehicle with its own name and everything, Wacky Races seems like an easier fit (also, then we could see Scooby and Muttley interacting).
As far as I could tell though, Fisch seemed to do his usual good job of telling a fun, funny story with the Scooby-Doo characters in their original iterations sharing about 20-pages worth of an adventure with either an old Hanna-Barbera cartoon property or a DC Comics character. The art in this issue is from Scott Jeralds, and I suppose it should be noted that this is one of those instances where both components of the team-up have very strong character designs that aren't as flexible as when the DC heroes show up, and that the character designs don't mesh too terribly well, but there have certainly been more dramatic stylistic clashes in past issues (as when Scooby and company met the Teen Titans from Teen Titans Go!, or The Flintstones, or any of the Hanna-Barbera talking animal characters...)
So apparently this is a kinda sorta graphic novel adaptation of a podcast in which the McElroys played Dungeons & Dragons, with Clint McElroy getting credited as the writer, apparently shaping their game into a graphic novel. That's not terribly important, although it does explain the self-awareness of the characters as characters, and their more-or-less constant use of real world slang and pop culture references despite living in a medieval-ish fantasy land. In addition to occasionally referencing the rules that govern the game play, their dungeon master occasionally appears in inset panels in the corners of other panels and communicates with them; that's him on the cover, and, as you can see, he's not meant to be part of the characters' world within the game, but is just a regular-looking, real world dude.
Now, there's something of a strange tension to the book, as enjoyable as it is. The characters are engaged in a real quest, and they take that quest seriously, as well as the stakes and dangers involved, even as their dialogue often telegraphs the artificiality of the premise. As it progresses and nears its climax, though, something semi-transformative happens that seems like the set-up for future volumes (or...future campaigns played on the podcast? I don't know), but that climax seems a little unearned, given the silliness of much of what came before. The story doesn't so much as vacillate between two degrees of seriousness, as have one foot in each throughout. But as the book reaches its end, it gradually leans more and more in the direction of serious, and it felt a little...off.
Our heroes are Magnus, a human fighter with a penchant for addressing all problems with an attack and endless confidence in his many proficiencies; Taako, an acid-tongued amoral elven magic-user; and Merle, a dwarven cleric in service to the god Pan. They are on a mission to...well, it doesn't really matter all that much, really. They are hired as protection, but end up in a dungeon, fighting goblins--er, gerblins, I guess?--and facing a series of unexpected challenges that include a necromancer and a cursed artifact of incredible power.
What I found most engaging about the book was the way in which common elements from D&D like, say, a charmed spell, are spun out into comedic scenes, the same with other fantasy elements used to create little skits, like when Merle casts a "truth" spell without taking into account its range, and no one can stop themselves from being totally honest for a few pages, for example, or when the necromancer transforms himself to look exactly like the person they are trying to save, leading to the familiar two-characters-look-identical-and-both-claim-they-are-the-genuine-one-while-the-other-is-the-impostor dilemma.
I have enough experience with and affection for the ultimate source material here that I enjoyed the hell out of the book on a scene-by-scene basis--even if ultimately, as a whole, it's not exactly a great work--but I'm not sure how much fun it will be for someone with, like, no experience or interest with fantasy role playing. I think things like a villain mourning the death of his giant monster spider, who was just one day away from "spider retirement", or a wizard casting a spell to defeat an opponent and shouting "Abracafuckyou!" would still be funny, but perhaps much of it would be bewildering...? I could feel that my complete lack of knowledge of the podcast might have kept some of the jokes from me, for example.
Like, that subtitle. "Gerblin" is what the characters call "goblins" a few times. Originally I thought that was perhaps some kinda copyright thing, as I've never been quite clear on which words or terms are "owned" by Dungeons & Dragons*****, and IDW currently has the D&D license (Although I sure wouldn't mind reading a McEllory and Pietsch ongoing from IDW now; this is, I think, a much more clever way to make comics based on those games than the traditional method). Later they do use the word "goblin" though, and many of the other monsters that appear throughout are named just as they are in D&D so, I honestly don't know. Maybe "Gerblin" is just an inside joke, and I am on the outside.
Pretty fun comic though, and a fantastic showcase for Pietsch's skills. I was previously only familiar with her work from Lumberjanes, and I wasn't terribly fond of it there, but I see now that was likely do to seeing those particular, familiar characters rendered differently; here, where she builds everything herself, it's clear just how damn great a comics artist she is.
Giant Spider & Me earlier this year, I was convinced it was the weirdest cooking manga there could be. One should never doubt Japan's ability to come up with ever weirder comics, of course, and Ryoko Kui's earlier Delicious In Dungeon (Danjon Meshi, or "Dungeon Meal", in Japan) out-weirds Giant Spider & Me. After all, despite the presence of the giant spider, the recipes in that comic all consist of real meals created from real ingredients. Those in the pages of Delicious, however, are all made from fantasy ingredients, and mostly detail how to prepare meals from animals that don't even exist.
The milieu is a fairly average Dungeons & Dragons-like world, where the rules of fantasy role playing games are ingrained in the consciousness of all the characters. Our luckless heroes are an adventuring party that breaks up after the terrible defeat that opens the book: They encounter a red dragon at the heart of sprawling dungeon, and when human fighter Laios (that's him on the cover) gets distracted by his hunger for a moment, his spell-casting sister is snapped up the dragon...but not before she can teleport the rest of them to safety.
Several party members quit, leaving just Laios and his comrades Marcille, an elven spellcaster, and Chilchuk, a halfling thief. With no money or supplies, it seems impossible to mount a rescue operation, and just because Laois' sister is dead, that doesn't mean she can't be rescued: Accentuating the RPG-like aspects of the manga, characters can be brought back to life fairly easily (At least compared to, you know, in real life). Laois has the perfect solution, however: Why not just eat the monsters?
It sounds like an insane idea--and, in fact, Marcille never quite gets over how insane an idea it is--but near the beginning of the dungeon, they meet Senshi, a blank-expressioned dwarf who is also an expert chef, long-acquainted with living off the "land" within the dungeon and, as providence would have it, has always dreamed of cooking a red dragon, the very monster our heroes need to fight again if they plan to save their fallen comrade.
And that, in essence, is the manga. Each chapter involves an encounter with a new monster and a battle against it, and each ends with Senshi cooking said monster into an apparently delicious meal, complete with a recipe and instructions, in case any readers find themselves with a huge scorpion and a walking mushroom, and want to know how to prepare a hotpot with them, I guess. When each dish is prepared, the panel revealing its recipe also features a pentagon-shaped chart rating its five essential qualities--minerals, energy, fat, protein and vitamins--and I found myself wondering while reading if anyone had come up with an RPG based on the comic yet.
Whats interesting is that, in this first volume, while some chapters seem to revolve around the cooking and eating, others feature fairly creative takes on some familiar (and a few not-so-familiar) dungeon denizens that would prove compelling even if the manga's unique hook were somehow removed.
So they first add Senshi to their group after they kill a walking mushroom--which is just what it sounds like, only about the size of a human child--and, honestly, that does seem a rather edible monster compared to some of the others, like the giant scorpion and the slime that Senshi adds to the hotpot (Along the way, we learn Ryoko Kui's imaginative biology and cultural history for such creatures. Later in the volume, they fight, cook and eat monsters that seem more or less edible, like Man-Eating Plants, Mandrakes and a Basilisk (which is, here, just a giant rooster with a snake for a tail; naturally it tastes like chicken), and even Living Armor, which shouldn't be the least bit edible, although Kui has come up with a pretty fascinating explanation regarding what, exactly, living armor is and how it is that it seems to live.
Five volumes of the series have been published so far, with the six slated for a November release. I hope I can catch up by then.
Ernesto boldy rushes off to see the world, running across a rickety rope bridge, swimming across a creek, climbing a large rock and, ultimately, diving into the sea, where he befriends a whale named Louie, who offers to show him the sky over the sea and then take him to the desert, where he can see that kind of sky. He'll go on to also see mountain sky and arctic sky.
Meanwhile, Peter is gutted and depressed, lonely and worried for his friend. After laying on a branch in the sloth version of the fetal position for a while, he determines that he must face his fears and go bring Ernesto back. He goes very far, but stops at the sea, and there decides to wait. Like Ernesto, he makes several new friends and allies during his adventure, too.
It was unsurprisingly pretty funny throughout, with some moments being especially so, but I was genuinely surprised at how emotional the ending felt to me, and it was overall an extremely satisfying narrative, considering that it is, after all, a kids comic about a couple of sloths. Based on the fact that there's an ad for Peter & Ernesto: The Lost Sloths on the last page, it seems First Second has already decided to go ahead with another volume before this was released. I suppose there's no surprise there, either, as commissioning a series of comic books from Annable is about as safe a bet as one can make.
Hakumei & Mikochi: Tiny Little Life In The Woods (Yen Press) This cozy little fantasy manga is extremely well-made, and a lot better than it might look at first glance, I swear.
Teasing Master Takagi-san Vol. 1 (Yen Press) I liked this one quite a bit. Great character designs and acting on the part of manga-ka Soichiro Yamamoto.
AND WHILE I'M LINKING TO GOOD COMICS FOR KIDS, I ALSO DID AN INTERVIEW ABOUT:
DC Super Hero Girls: Out of the Bottle (DC) I got the opportunity to ask a few questions to DC Super Hero Girls writer Shea Fontana for Good Comics For Kids. These ogns are generally very good, but this one was maybe slightly more visually compelling than previous ones because of the nature of the story--art teacher June Moon's magical paints bring the girls' drawings from their auto-bio comics projects to life--and and it also features The Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man and a My Little Pony-esque bat-wing pegasus-ish thing called a "Baticorn," which Damian Wayne totally needs to add to his Batcave menagerie.
*At 41-and-a-half, I feel I need to put those words in quotes if I am to use them at all.
**And Viola makes a convincing argument for how they might be viable for a modern-day series in the closing paragraphs of the introduction:
I would love to see them take on the poachers in Africa who don't just kill endangered animals, they also kill the rangers who try to protect them. Then there are the fishing companies in Asia who not only wreak havoc with the ocean's environment, but they also take children as slaves to work on their boats. The political powers are either too corrupt or too afraid to do anything about it, but Bruce Force would put a quick end to it...Hey, I would love to see that too! Also, I'd like to see the dolphin show up in Japan, as the sight from that brutal documentary The Cove, and kick some dolphin-killer ass...
***I read the first issue of that series, and I was pleasantly surprised by it. I liked that this iteration of the team is presented as a sort of official sub-league within the Justice League, and even has its base attached to that of the League. Theirs is in a basement beneath the Hall of Justice. I think Tynion did a fine job spinning it out of the events of No Justice and, to a lesser extent, Metal, too. As the first issue ended, I was still entirely unconvinced that Man-Bat belonged there, but overall it was a more appealing issue than the last few attempts at some kind of magical Justice League, going as far back as the various Shadowpact comics.
****Hey, how come the slightly-more-often-than-monthly issues of Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man reverted to "Legacy" numbering that added up all of the issues from all of the volumes of the series ever published previously to jump from issue #6 to #297, but the Annual is numbered as "#1"...? According to comics.org, there were 14 Spectacular Spider-Man annuals before; shouldn't this be #15 then...? Why, it's almost as if this "Legacy" bullshit is entirely arbitrary...!
*****Remember my first and worst self-published comic book, My Pet Halfling? (If not, I still have plenty of copies available for purchase! Along with my later, slightly better comics, The Mothman Comics and The Ghost In The Bathroom!) I went back and forth between naming it My Pet Hobbit , the sound of which I liked much better, and My Pet Halfling over and over, not wanting to use a word that seemed too closely associated with J.R.R. Tolkein, yet not wanting to use a word that I thought the D&D people might own either.