Thursday, October 03, 2019

A Month of Wednesdays: August 2019


Avengers By Jason Aaron Vol. 3: War of the Vampires (Marvel Entertainment) Much of the previous two volumes of Jason Aaron's run on Avengers* has involved setting up other super-teams for the heroes to fight, bump into and play off of. So far we've seen Namor's Defenders of The Deep, Russia's Winter Guard and hints of a new, U.S. government-aligned version of The Squadron Supreme. In this volume, 4/5ths of which is the title story arc, we get another super-team, a sort of vampire answer to The Avengers.

Lead by the masked and mysterious Darth Vader-like Shadow Colonel, this team's members have distinct names, gimmicks and powers. The Rat Bomber looks a bit like a muscular version of Max Schreck in Nosferatu, and he commands an army of rats who tote grenades on their back. The Carpathian looks a bit like a bigger, scarier, more supernatural version of Batman villain Man-Bat. Snowsnake is silent, wears a kimono and yokai mask and cuts down foes with a katana. And so on.

This team and their unlikely alliesSarge, a talking, skull-faced Hellhound who is the Colonel's second in command, and Boy-Thing, a cutting of Man-Thing that the Colonel wears around his neck to provide him with a never-ending stream of wooden stakes for his stake-firing Gatling gunare leading a revolution against the old order of vampires, having burned Castle Dracula to the ground, wiped out vampire enclaves all over the world, and are now desperately seeking the old lord of the undead himself.

The Avengers are basically putting out fires in the war, which eventually involves them quite directly when The Shadow Colonel and Sarge pressgang Ghost Rider into service by invoking a bigger, meaner, more spiky version of the spirit of vengeance, and the old, dying and mysteriously mustache-less Dracula turns himself in to the Winter Guard, seeking sanctuary in exchange for centuries worth of intel.

The story arc is mostly full of fantastical action sequences, with several of the big, dumb, awesome moments that can make Aaron's silliest super-comics so much fun. This is a small moment, but one emblematic of the kind of inspired craziness of Aaron's Avengers. Captain America with his shield in one hand and a huge golden cross in the other, barring the entrance of a church full of people from hungry vampires, and shouting, "These good people aren't on the menu. I am! So come take a big bite! If you've got the stomach for it!" (If that doesn't elicit a groan, how about the narration box about how Steve Rogers rarely has time to attend a mass at church? "Some men are just too busy standing to ever stop and kneel.")

After a good eighty pages of vampire war, in which the newest Avenger Blade obviously plays an appropriately large role, Dracula and The Shadow Colonel's Vampvengers get a new base of operations, the setting off a recent popular Netflix drama, and a new lease on un-life. One imagines like the other super-teams we've seen so far, they will come back to play a part in a future story arc or arcs as well. Aaron has also spends some time here setting up a future Avengers story, as while he was briefly stuck in Hell, Robbie crossed paths with one of his predecessors, a previous Ghost Rider and the current king of Hell, I guess...?

This volume opened with another of those done-in-ones telling the origin story of one of the prehistoric Avengers. Here it is the first Iron Fist, who was banished from K'un-Lun and wandered the Earth, teaching cavemen kung fu and running afoul of Mephisto. I realize these characters are probably going to show up again and play a pretty prominent role in the series, perhaps allying with the modern team to fight Mephisto in some fashion, just as I realize they provide a necessary break for the artist/artists and for Aaron and the narrative to shift gears into a different narrative, but they are currently so disconnected that they strike me as unnecessary interruptions. Were I reading this series serially, I think I'd probably skip these issues...or, at least, the ones that don't involve a flaming woolly mammoth.

Justice League #29 (DC Comics) This really should have been a particularly good issue of Justice League, as it is entitled "Jarro's Tale," and stars the tiny, regrown version of the original Justice League villain who has come to think of himself as Batman's adopted son and also as the latest Robin (And, in fact, he takes on The Legion of Doom solo, first in his Robin get-up and then in a form closer to that of his The Brave and The Bold #28 look, as he goes full-on conqueror).

And it does have a moment or two, like the panel where he hugs Batman, for example, but this was such a thunderously disappointing issue that it made me think maybe it's time to drop this book and start trade-waiting it, too (I've been especially reluctant to do so, though, given that it's the last ongoing series I read serially).

See, this is another issue-length recap of the series so far, which we've had far too many of so far (with zero being the appropriate number of issue-length recaps a twice-monthly super-comic should have published before it hits its 30th issue). There's some new content in it, of course, but far too much of the issue's 22 pages are filled with far too many words, telling the same parts of the same story all over again. Justice League just doesn't seem to be going anywhere...or, at least, it's not getting to the place it's been telling us it's going for so much of its relatively short run.

This issue is co-written by Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV, and while it bears the heavier-than-usual narration that Tynion's solo issues often do, Snyder's no slouch at covering the pages with narration boxes either, so I'm not sure who gets the most blame on that front.

It opens with a three-page sequence explaining how Starro's home planet is a "zero planet," a sort of Geoff Johns-ian explanation for why something trivial from the Silver Age is the way it is, a planet upon which evolution worked backwards, with life starting in a grand radiation of species and ultimately being reduced to one (um, don't stop to think about how that might work, because it wouldn't). That leads directly into a Grant Morrison-esque "they're all true" recounting of Starro's origin.

Then we get Jarro Vs. The Legion of Doom, interspersed with pages recapping Dark Nights: Metal, Justice League: No Justice and the entirety of the series so far; it reads like an entry in an encyclopedia that has been run through some kind of comic book filter, so all the text is in little boxes, with certain words in bold, and with those boxes in panels featuring illustration-style art, rather than, you know, images telling a story sequentially.

It ends right where the last issue ended, or the Year of The Villain Special ended; with the League saying they have to prepare for war against the Legion. It's basically a clip-show of a comic book, cut with a minor Jarro short-story that seems like it might have been a back-up in an annual or Secret Files & Origins special.

Justice League #30 (DC) First, Apex Predator Luthor slaughters the Justice League in ways much less gruesome than one might expect from 21st Century DC Comicsdid you see the panel from Batman/Superman #1 of The Batman Who Laugh's JLA satellite?

Then it is revealed that this was all a presentation by white-haired Will Payton, whose powers I still don't understand, made while he stands before a Justice League recreation of Da Vinci's Last Supper, addressing that room full of League recruits I talked about at length the other day. Then there's yet another recap of the events of the series.

Then we see Luthor's new Legion of Doom recruits in a scene echoing the reveal of the Justice army; among Luthor's gifts to various villains appear to be giving Ra's al Ghul his fullest, bushiest goatee ever, braiding Lobo's hair and I want to say resurrecting Teddy Roosevelt from the dead, but I'm not entirely sure what's going on with this handful of villains (They look pretty week, though; Superman, Flash and Wonder Woman should be able to take them all out in under five minutes).

Then it finally gets interesting. The current plan is to use Jack Knight's version of The Cosmic Rod (which I want to say was last seen being wielded by Stargirl in the pages of...Justice League United...? Maybe? I had to just go look up the title of that book, because I vaguely remember it existing, but thought it was one of the Justice League of America titles...) to locate two thingamajigs in two different time streams. The Trinity will go to the far-flung future after one thingamajig, where they meet Kamandai and his animal bros. Green Lantern John Stewart and The Flash Barry Allen will go to the past, where they meet...The Justice Society of America! the DC Universe finally on the verge of being repaired from all the Flashpoint/New 52 shenanigans, the continuity changes of which most writers seems to have been ignoring more and more often these past few years? Will it happen in the pages of Justice League, or in that dumb Watchmen sequel I haven't been reading, or both? I don't know, but hey, DC's Golden Age superheroes are back! For at least a single page!

(If, like me, this is a thing you would care about more than almost anything else I've said above, I will here pause to note that the particular JSA line-up here consists of Starman Ted Knight; a Hawkman; Sandman Wesley Dodds, wearing his gas-mask and suit ensemble; Wilcat Ted Grant, in a fuzzy-looking cat costume; The Atom Al Pratt; Hourman Rex Tyler, about to pop a pill; The Flash Jay Garrick; Green Lantern Alan Scott and a Doctor Fate. Notably missing are any ladies, probably because including a Wonder Woman or a Black Canary would suggest that this is not going to be the "real" post-Crisis, pre-Flashpoint JSA, as Wonder Women and Canaries have come and gone depending on the continuity changes in various crises. Johnny Thunder and his Thunderbolt aren't there either, although they did appear in DC Universe: Rebirth, so that struck me as a curious absence. Maybe he's not around for the same reason The Spectre isn't; they're too powerful...?)

Jorge Jimemez draws the living hell out of the issue, and his art is all pretty great. There are a lot of splash pages and near-splashes, but Snyder and Tyinion include so many goddam words in this issue that the dialogue and narration slow things down enough to compensate for there being perhaps too-few panels.

Phantoms In The Attic: A Selection of Artwork by Richard Sala (Fantagraphics) As a mostly-art book, this is a sort of difficult thing to review, although, if you're anything like me, then you don't exactly need to read a review of it. "New Richard Sala book" should be all you need to know to know this is well worth your money and your time. Basically, all I could really do is scan images from its interior and say, "Look! Look how awesome this page is! And look, here's another awesome page!" until either I got sick of repeating myself or you got sick of me repeating myself. One.

So let me just say this. It's a 9-inch-by-12-inch, 116-page, trade paperback, mostly-full color art collection. The two comics portions are a nine-page black-and-white "The Bloody Cardinal" story from 2017, featuring his vicious, bird-headed, master criminal character narrating in obsessive and scary poetic language (this was originally a passage from a free promotional comic, the text says, and the character was featured in a 2017 graphic novel by that same name) and a six-page horror story about a night visitor entitled "Strange Question."

The rest of the pages are images mostly devoted to extremely Sala-esque subject matter, occupying that same spooky or macabre pop goth area of mass culture where the aesthetics of Charles Addams, Edward Gorey, Edgar Allan Poe, early Tim Burton and the horror films of Golden Age Hollywood intersect. There are recurring characters, like Sala's Judy Drood, Girl Detective and Pelicula, as well as Cat Burglar X and the usual assortment of pretty girls, magicians and wizards, masked villains, monsters, ghouls and creepy-looking figures seem like they might have fought Dick Tracy at some point, or spent some time in Gotham City circa the late 1940s.

Among my favorites are a series that all have horror movie-like titles and look a bit like text-free movie posters for the greatest movies never made, like "The Phantom's Castle of Werewolves", "Vampires in a Girls' Dormitory", "Frankenstein Meets the Mummies of the Witch Queen", "Dracula's Daughter and Her Army of The Living Dead" and so on; actually, these all look like elaborate unmade sequels to extant horror classics, given the fact that The Phantom resembles the one from The Phantom of The Opera (the original horror movie, not the musical), the Frankenstein looks like the one Boris Karloff played, and so on.

Also noteworthy, for the way they stand out, are a fairly straight image of Sherlock Holmes and another of Alice and the Queen of Hearts from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

So while this lacks the pleasure of narrative found in Sala's graphic novels and comics, it more than makes up for it in offering a nice, long soak in his aesthetic, and the mysterious suggestion of narrative apparent in almost every piece in here. If you like masterful cartooning, monsters, scary stuff and pretty girls, than you will love this. You can see a preview here, and, if you spend some time scrolling and clicking around there, you will find some of the images that ended up in this collection. I can think of no better way to spend an hour than scrolling and clicking around looking at Sala's art. (Well, maybe a few...less than ten, though!)

Star Wars Adventures Annual 2019 (IDW Productions) Fine, I admit it: I purchased this $8 comic book simply because it featured Stan Sakai drawing Lando Calrissian, and really, how often does one get the opportunity to see Sakai drawing any classic Star Wars characters? And really, that's the only reason I bought it; the two artists who most reliably sell me on issues of IDW's Star Wars Adventures comics, Derek Charm and Elsa Charetteir, don't contribute art to this particular issue (although Charetteir does co-write the back-up feature).

It's not hard to see why IDW might have wanted Sakai to draw this particular cover, as opposed to any other Star Wars comic cover, beyond the fact that he's a great cartoonist (I mean, I would love to see him draw Darth Vader, Storm Troopers, Chewbacca, light sabers, etc). He is, after all, comics' premiere drawer of anthropomorphic rabbits, and this issue's lead story stars the Internet-legendary expanded universe character Jaxxon, perhaps better known to long-time comics blog readers as GIANT GREEN STAR WARS RABBIT.

I believe Jaxxon's appearance here means he ins now officially part of the Star Wars canon, as opposed to the "legends" status he would have had after Disney bought Star Wars and Marvel resumed publication of licensed Star Wars comics.

Sadly, Sakai's contribution to the issue is just the cover (although one hopes there are enough folks like me who will drop $8 on a comic solely because of the unlikely combination of Sakai + Star Wars that IDW will have him back to do not just more covers, but also some interior sequential work). The artwork on the Lando/Jaxxon story is by Mauricet, whose style seems to be highly regulated to better fit in with the standard, cleaner, cartoonier look of the series. I really dig his Jaxxon, though; for a giant green Star Wars rabbit, he looks rough, like he's had a lifetime of hard living.

I don't know much of the character's original iterationI still have a healthy stack of the Dark Horse omnibus reprints of the Marvel Star Wars series in my To Read pile from years and years agobut I like that regular Star Wars Adventures writer Cavan Scott presents him as a sort of fierce rival to Han Solo, who is thus easily manipulated by Lando into doing things simply by Lando saying things like, "I bet Han could get us out of this jam!" Also, it makes him a perfect foil for Lando...although it would certainly be fun to see a future Han Solo/Jaxxon team-up in a future issue.

The 32-page story, "Hare-Brained Heist," is set in the post-Jedi, pre-Force Awakens period, and it features Lando borrowing the Falcon to investigate an Imperial factory cranking out some new drone TIE fighters, and there he finds Jaxxon, who got himself captured while attempting to save the planet's princess. From there, the pair have to break into an Imperial museum and steal back a religious thingamajig to help rally the princess' demoralized people. It's a pretty fun, rousing adventure, and a pretty great introduction to Jaxxon.

The back-up is written by Charretier and her regular writing partner Pierrick Colinet, featuring art by Margaux Saltel. That art is perfectly fine, and the animated style and soft, luminous animation-like coloring is neat to see applied to scenes from throughout the prequel trilogy, but it's still sort of frustrating to see Charretier's name attached to a story and not see her art. Like, I really want to see her drawings of Padme now. The eight-page back-up is about tiny, toddler Princess Leia encountering her adopted mother Breha in a garden, where she appears to be reading a book to R2-D2 at the foot of a statue of Queen Amidala in her elaborate Episode I get-up.

Breha then tells Leia the story of Padme, which Saltel illustrates on four panel-less pages as it appears to come to life before the Alderanian royals. The story is really more for our benefit than Leia's, as Breha acknowledges that Leia is probably too young to understand what she's telling her, or to really remember it, but the point is to draw a direct line between Padme and Leia, in terms of their roles as leaders of what would eventually become the Rebellion and then the New Republic.


The Batman Who Laughs (DC Comics) This seven-issue miniseries by Scott Snyder and Jockcollected into a hardcover along with the one-issue spin-off The Batman Who Laughs: The Grim Knight by Snyder, James Tynion IV and Eduardo Rissodefinitely reads like a novel. It took me three sittings to get through it, the result both of how substantial a read it is and, I think, a quirk of Snyder's writing. That is, the beginning of each issue tends to open with a wordy anecdote or story that, when read in collected form, has the effect of making it seem like a good time to quit for the night, regardless of how propulsive the plot might otherwise be.

As someone who read Snyder's Batman run in trade rather than serially, this also reminded me quite a bit of that experience; this basically read like a bonus volume of Snyder's Batman, which, in a way, I guess it kind of is. The Batman Who Laughs, the dark version of Batman from the dark multiverse and who played a fairly key role in Snyder and his former Batman partner Greg Capullo's Dark Nights: Metal event series, has returned to Gotham City after his handful of appearances since Metal. He has a new partner in the form of The Grim Knight; if The Batman Who Laughs is basically a "What if Batman was also The Joker?" take on the hero, then this new dark multiverse Dark Knight is basically a "What if Batman was also The Punisher?" (His schtick is eventually revealed to be a bit more complex than simply being a Batman who kills people with guns, but not by much; he basically managed to "weaponize" every element of his Gotham City before his failed world ended).

Their plot is actually kind of byzantine and even somewhat silly. Our Batman has this weird-ass plan to prepare Gotham City for some sort of siege or apocalypse, sealing it and its water supply off from the rest of the world. TBWL is going to use that to infect everyone in Gotham City so they become Joker-ized, or maybe TBWL-ized, like he himself is. To do this, he needs to push alternate versions of Bruce Wayne through portals in order to...I don't know, comply with the rules Snyder established for this outcome to be actualized.

Unable to out-think a version of himself that is also The Joker simultaneously, Batman takes the drastic move of preemptively infecting himself, sort of leveling himself up to being a second Batman Who Laughs, keeping his infection in check with various anti-Joker toxins long enough to save the day. That's the plan, anyway.

The story also involves The Joker and James Gordons Sr. and Jr., the latter who the heroes look to for guidance on being a super-serial killer (Interestingly, that's a character Snyder has been writing ever since he started working on the Batman character, way back in his pre-reboot Detective Comics arcs, when Dick Grayson was still Batman). Like I said, it's pretty complicated, but if it's a bit much, it's a bit much in the same way most of Snyder's Batman story arcs have been, wherein he seems to take things one or three steps father than I personally would have thought necessary.

Snyder has of course worked with Jock repeatedly before, notably during his brief All-Star Batman revival, and I'm not a particular fan of the artist on this character, cast and milieu, although that too is a matter of personal preference more than a criticism of his work, which is sharp, strong and highly expressive.

Given that this storyline has about three different James Gordons, three Batmen, two Jokers and a half-dozen or so Bruce Waynes, not to mention multiple Gotham Cities, I would in this particular instance have preferred an artist who worked in greater detail to distinguish the subtle and not so subtle differences in the characters. Jock also has a tendency to drop backgrounds from his art, which, given how much of the book takes place in the dark and in caves and sewers, might not be such a big deal as in other comics, but Gotham City is such a fun-looking place to read and draw, I think backgrounds can be more important in Batman comics than in other super-comics (Certainly, part of the reason I love Kelley Jones' Batman comics so much is his drawings of walls, windows, alleys, skyline, gargoyles, streets and fences of Gotham City).

A couple of random observations while reading this book:

I never before realized how much The Batman Who Laughs resembles Judge Death. I've been seeing the former, in comics I'm reading and in pictures online, for years now, but for whatever reason, I never made the connection until reading this book. I think it is likely due to the way Jock draws the character versus the way Capullo and others have. He tends to look more skeletal and phantom-like in Jock's art, and maybe that coupled with the grin and eyes-obscured-by-medieval-looking-visor-of-some-kind was enough to jog my memory of Judge Death (Also weird? I first met Judge Death in a Batman comic; in fact, Batman Vs. Judge Dredd was probably among the first dozen or so super-comics I had ever read).

Much is made of The Joker's booby-trapped heart in this storyline, the idea that The Joker has fixed it so that whoever kills him will release a toxin that will turn them into a/The Joker. In fact, at one point, The Joker tries to kill himself in front of Batman in order to Joker-ize Batman to take on The Batman Who Laughs, and Batman has to have Alfred perform emergency open-heart surgery on The Joker to keep him alive.

I kinda like that innovation, as it helps explain why Batman (and his other allies) can never kill The well as why he's unlikely to be executed. The Joker's killed so many people at this point that the whole insanity defense thing doesn't really work anymore, so unless he's going to disappear in explosions at the end of every arc, having a buy-able rationalization for why whatever state Gotham is supposed to be in doesn't just execute him already makes the suspension of disbelief a little easier. Like, I've never had any problem rationalizing why Batman himself doesn't kill The Joker no matter what, but Arkham Asylum has made less and less sense the older I've got and the more I've learned about how the criminal justice system really works in the real world.

In general, I'm not a fan of giving characters signature dialogue balloon styles, of the sort that The Endless in The Sandman used to talk in (although the Endless being god-like, that made a certain amount of sense, and I did honestly love some of those, particularly Delerium's "voice"). If they are readable, and translate something verbal into something visual, than that's fine. Like, dialogue bubbles with bigger font, or in all bold to signify volume? Makes sense. Scratchy, jagged-looking balloons with scratchy text within, signifying a scratchy, jagged-sounding speech? Makes sense.

Even Dream's white-on-black instead of black-on-white balloons and the spooky, cloud-like shape of the borders of said balloons suggested a distinct sounding-voice, and made more sense given the speaker would change design and form story to story.

But Joker's been talking in his own distinct font since The New 52, which is similar to everyone else's speech in every way but that font. So, okay, it suggests The Joker sounds different than everyone else. Makes sense. (Even if I personally have a hard time not hearing Mark Hamill's Joker voice whenever I read a Joker story any more).

The Batman Who Laughs speaks in a black dialogue balloon with a red border and a wavy tail; additionally, his words are in a red font. So, he sounds...opposite of everyone else, in a way that Dream might, but also his words are...redder...? This one is actually a bit frustrating here, as there's a scene where TBWL's tricks a blind security guard because his voice sounds exactly like that of Bruce Wayne's even though, visually, their voices look so different.

And then, of course, to signify "our" Batman turning into a second TBWL, his dialogue gradually includes more and more red words within black and white, standard-issue dialogue balloons. It works, visually, to show how Batman is the end, all his words are red, and, at the climax, his white goes gray, and then black...but only in so much as it demonstrates the change. I still can't imagine what The Batman Who Laughs is supposed to sound like.

Later still, as Batman is coming down and returning to normal, he speaks in random red letters injected among his black-on-white dialogue, or white-on-gray narration. The letters seem random, but, in a cute/maybe-too-cute move, Snyder has those letters spell out weird, dark, negative, cryptic thoughts, like, "RIGHT HERE STILL HA HA"... Earlier, this is done with whole words, so that Batman will be saying one thing, but words within the sentences will form other, "secret" sentences readers can read but the characters within the story can't really hear.

The Grim Knight spin-off issue is somewhat unnecessary, and feels like the cash-grab it probably was, but it doesn't feel entirely out-of-place read as it is collected here, between issues #3 and #4, it does explain the Grim Knight's motivations and, in particular, his interest in the Gordons. Risso's a great artist, and his style is so different from Jock's that the one thing this one-shot issue did is make me wish he had drawn the whole series/graphic novel, and not just the spin-off.

In it, Tynion, Snyder and Risso recreate scenes from Frank Miller and David Mazzuccelli's "Year One" arc, but adding a gun in Bruce Wayne and Batman's hand and, eventually, a young James Gordon goes to war with Batman, rather than joining his crusade against crime and corruption in Gotham City.

In a nitpick of a thing that always bothers me, there's a scene wherein Batman is accused of killing not only "O. Cobblepot" and "Red Hood Leader" in his first year, but also "R. Sidonis", in his later black skull appearance, and "W. Jones," who didn't appear in Gotham until Jason Todd's tenure as Robin II. Now, I know this is an alternate Gotham, but it still bugs me when there are random changes; like, how would Bruce Wayne killing Joe Chill with a gun lead to Killer Croc appearing a good five years earlier than usual, for example...?

Anyway, just a nitpick.

The series ends with a reveal that Gordon is infected by The Batman Who Laughs, and that seems to lead pretty directly into the story now playing out in Batman/Superman and will ultimately get its own event series in December's Year of The Villain: Hell Arisen.

Dear Justice League (DC) This is the second of the DC Zoom books I've readthat's the imprint for middle-school readers, although DC is apparently doing away with that branding at some point in the near futurefollowing the first Super Sons book. What attracted me to this one was the presence of artist Gusavo Duarte (although he gets an "illustrated by" credit, which is weird coming from a comic book publisher), who drew the pretty great 2015 Bizarro miniseries with Heath Corson, where he proved to have a great facility with drawing big dumb guys and attractive women. He also drew some shorter pieces here and there, like a Batman/Detective Chimp team-up in 2016's DC Rebirth Holiday Special and some back-ups and suchlike for Marvel. I really like his highly cartoony style, and was eager to see him do something long-form like this, with some of DC's slightly more serious characters than, you know, Bizarro and Jimmy Olsen.

He's paired with writer Michael Northrop, who seems to be brand-new to comics (like so many of the Zoom and Ink writers have been so far), but not to writing (he's written a couple of YA prose novels, a middle-school prose book and he used to work for Sports Illustrated For Kids).

The premise for this book is apparent from the title and Duarte's cover: The Justice Leaguers receiving and answering email from kids. Each character gets a chapter of their own in which they answer a particular email, generally leading via flashback to a particular comedic adventure, while those chapters reference an invasion of Earth by an army of insect men, and, as often as not, lead into the next chapter. The final chapter has the entire League assemble to repel the invasion.

The particular line-up of the League that stars in this book isn't one that has existed in precisely this iteration of any of the comics, but seems to have been assembled from a couple of different ones, most likely for the sake of diversitythat is, probably so that Wonder Woman wasn't the only woman, and that there was more than one person of color involved, and that "green" not be one of the colors. So we have mainstays Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and The Flash, who have been part of every Justice League line-up since 2011's line-wide continuity reboot. There's Cyborg, who I guess has technically been on the team all that time, even if he's been written out of the current Justice League book in order to co-star in a spin-off series. Then we have Hawkgirl, who just joined at the start of the current series, in 2018. And Green Lantern Simon Baz, who was one of the two Green Lanterns during the Bryan Hitch-written "Rebirth" Justice League that ran from 2016-2018.

The letters they get all tend to be fairly simple. Superman is asked if he ever messes up, which he chuckles at, given that he's Superman...and then he promptly flies into a building because he was too busy reading his phone, kicking off a chaotic chain of events he spends the rest of his day trying to prevent. Hawkgirl is asked if she, like her namesake, eats small mammals, a question that could have dramatic consequences for her pet hamster, Hamlet. Aquaman is asked, "No offense, but do you smell like fish most of the time?", and then he must struggle with that question himself.

My favorite sequence is the question asked of Simon Baz, as it's from a girl who considers fashion very important, and she wants to know if he ever considered changing his costume design up. I have wondered that myself! Because Simon Baz has the single worst Green Lantern costume of them all! Ever! And, remember, there's like 7,200 Lanterns in the universe! And Kyle Rayner once wore a costume with a dog collar!

His correspondent seems to be asking more about the fact that he is limited to the two colors black and green, but, when he visits a tailor, he gets a rather withering reception:

His "new" costume being even worse looking is obviously supposed to be a joke, but, honestly? I prefer it.
I mean, a plaid sweater beats a ski mask any day, and he looks much less serial killer and more heroic above (Okay, I guess if it was up to me I'd lose the sweater and slap on a domino mask and call it a day. But no one asked me. No one ever asks me!)

Among all the gags, Duarte does get to draw some honest-to-goodness, straight-forward super-heroics and he is honestly quite good at it. I particularly like the way he draws the characters in flight, Aquaman swimming like a torpedo through the water, The Flash's super-speed...I imagine that Duarte's art has so much personality to it that we are not likely to see him announced as the next Justice League artist any time soon but, honestly, he's probably my favorite Justice League artist of the moment. His Aquaman and Wonder Woman, his Flash and his Hawkgirl (Particularly without her mask)? They're all perfect.

Beyond the heroes on the cover, we also The Joker and Black Manta, Alfred, Wonder Woman at her 11th birthday party (so, closer to being Wonder Girl than she was to Wonder Tot, I guess?) and we meet a few new Justice League pets, including the aforementioned Hamlet; Purdie, a goldfish that lives in Aquaman's quarters (he and Kendra both have umbrella stands where they store their weaponry, by the way), and Justie, the Hall of Justice cat. I look forward to seeing them appear within the pages of Scott Snyder and company's Justice League in the near future.

The story is followed by "Hall of Justice Top Secret Files" giving a couple of facts about each of the Leaguers, including plenty of jokes. A few of those fact kind of surprised me, like Simon being "Powerless against the color yellow" and Kendra being referred to as a teenager. There are similar files on the "Auxiliary Members" Jumpa and the three pets that appear in the Hall and Northrop and Duarte. And there's a form for writing your own letter to the Justice League.

There are also two previews, one for the already released Superman of Smallville by Art Baltazar and Franco, and another for a sequel to this very book, "Dear Super-Villains," scheduled for release next year. In it, Harley Quinn gets a text while she's hanging out at the Legion of Doom's headquarters, and we get a flashback to her trying stand-up comedy at a Gotham City comedy club, where The Joker, Catwoman, Clayface and Commissioner Gordon all seem to be in attendance.

Goblin Slayer Vol. 1 (Yen Press) Despite the warning label on the cover, with the words "Parental Advisory" and "Explicit Content" above and below the word "Warning," I was still a bit caught off guard by how rough the actual manga is. The violence is quite graphic and straightforward and, despite the expected stylization, probably pretty realistic, given how much killing is done with various medieval weaponry. There is quite a bit of nudity, some of it presented so as to be titillating, but the context is pretty grotesque: Most of it comes during rape scenes.

Given all that, manga-ka Kousuke Kurose, who is adapting what was originally an illustrated prose story with a complicated history, does keep even worse stuff off-panel and in the imagination of the reader. For example, the multiple rape scenes all occur on-panel, but they could certainly have been drawn even more exploitative or in greater detail than they were. And while the heroor, er, protagonist, I guesskills plenty of goblin warriors, when it comes time to bash in the heads of the goblin children they have hidden from him in their nest, the reader just sees the raised club and the sound effects.

The story-telling is definitely...effective, and while I question some of the decisions, it definitely makes goblins appear like terrifying monsters and adversaries of humanity, while also making Goblin Slayer himself seem frighteningly inhumane (As someone coming to the material with so much time spent on American super-comics, there's something of The Punisher about him; a psychotic villain who is presented as hero by default because of his choice of prey).

The book is set in a world that closely resembles the setting of Dungeons & Dragons and similar role-playing games, and even has a degree of the games' rules built into it. Heroes of familiar typesfighters, magic users and clericsvisit a guild house where they sign up for campaigns, and they are ranked according to their experience and skill-level. We follow a priestess, who is a porcelain rank, the lowest rank of all, as she joins a party of three other porcelains who set out to fight a nest of goblins, vile monsters with the size, strength and smarts of the average human child, generally regarded as among the weaker, easier and, therefore, less sexy monsters for adventurers to take on.

This novice adventure party gets in over their heads almost immediately, as the goblins ambush them in the dark of their cave. The magic-user is mortally wounded. One fighter's broad sword is too big and unwieldy for close-quarters cave combat, and he's swarmed and killed under dozens of blows (this is shown in a long shot, the sound effects doing a lot of grisly work). The other fighter, a female martial artist, encounters a bigger than expected goblin, and is immediately subdued, stripped and carried away. The priestess is wounded and about to suffer a similar fate when Goblin Slayer intervenes. Ultimately, only the priestess survives the adventure relatively unscathed; the fighter lives, but not before being brutally raped by the inhuman little creatures (it's not laid out explicitly, but apparently the goblins use human females to breed, as there are no female goblins shown, but the goblins manage to create children and their primary occupation seems to be to abduct and rape young women).

After that harrowing campaign, which fills the first half of the the first volume, we begin to learn a little bit more about Goblin Slayer, and how he's seen in the world. Exterminating goblins is his sole goal, and it borders on obsession. Though he's a silver-ranked adventurerthat's the third-highest rank, and the highest one that would ever be expected to be seen in the fieldhe's a "specialist," pursuing goblins exclusively because of some sort of combination of his own traumatic experience with them (which is only hinted at during two different points in the volume) and, perhaps, his unique insight into how deadly they are, and the cost that goblins exact from parties of adventurers (Because experienced adventurers don't take goblin quests, it's generally only naive, novice groups like the one we followed that go after goblins, and they generally experience a similar fate, killing a few of them before they themselves are killed, meaning it takes several waves of young would-be heroes to sacrifice themselves in order to defeat a den of goblins).

Goblin Slayer is looked down on by his fellow experienced adventurers, and regarded with suspicion, perhaps rightly so. He also never removes his helmet, not even when eating and drinking (something that could have been played for laughs, but isn't; there aren't any laughs in this manga). The priestess he saved decides to follow him, and, in the second half of the book, she embarks on his next goblin-slaying quest, where she effectively helps him slaughter more goblins who have also defeated and brutally raped another team of female adventurers, although she has begun to worry that joining him in his quest will corrupt her faith and her faith-based spells (For example, a force field spell meant for protection is here used to cut off the only route of escape for a group of goblins, so that they are all burned alive in a fire set by Goblin Slayer).

There's enough mystery about the hero and his identitygiven his refusal to unmask, I immediately assumed that perhaps he himself is a goblin of some sortthat I'm curious about what happens next, but man, it is a pretty tough read, and is certainly not for everyone/most people.

Invaders Vol. 1: War Ghosts (Marvel) This was something of a surprise because it was not funny, like, at all. Now I know these aren't particularly humorous charactersalthough I always find Namor, particularly WWII-era Namor, fucking hilariousnor does Butch Guice's cover image suggest a comedic comic, but, well, I've never read anything by Chip Zdarsky that wasn't funny. Some of his comics that I've read have been emotional and dramatic, and/or clever and smart, but they've always been at least a little funny. They've had jokes.

His Invaders does not have jokes. In fact, I don't think there's a single joke in it. And that's okay, of course, it was just a bit of a surprise. Turns out that guy's not a one-trick pony. He has at least two tricks! This is a very serious comic book. But it is also a very good comic book.

While the title might suggest a team-up between The Invaders, particularly the three who are named above the titleCaptain America, Namor and Winter Soldierit's really more of a story that involves the three of them. Mostly divided between two timelines, the past timeline does involve Namor, Steve Rogers, Bucky Barnes during the war years, while the events of the present involve Rogers, Barnes and original Human Torch Jim Hammond trying to figure out what's wrong with Namor in the present (as seen in the pages of Avengers, he's very much in a "Destroy the surface world!" phase again), what his plans are and if they can stave off a war between Atlantis and the United States (and/or any other air-breathing nation states) before Namor goes too far-ther than usual.

The ins-and-outs of Namor's current madness seem still to be quite mysterious, although the climax of this volume (collecting the first six issues of the series) suggests that some of it might come down to Charles Xavier being a jerk (as do so many problems in the Marvel Universe). That's because part of the sequences set in the past deal not with World War II itself, but with what happened after the war, as Namor was haunted by some of his experiences and, for a time, took up with Charles in his quest to find mutants, and Charles is a very powerful psychic who doesn't exactly have the best ethics when it comes to attempting to use them to help people by meddling with their minds.

As that particular sequence plays into two parts of Namor's history I have almost zero experience with or knowledge ofthe time he spent wandering around as a hobo until he met the Fantastic Four and Johnny Storm fire-shaved him and his status as "the first mutant" leading to his palling around with the X-Men for a status quo or twoI can't quite confidently state that I know what's going on with Namor now, but it seems clear that his latest heel turn is neither random nor an act. There's something much more to it.

Zdarsky's narrative is split fairly neatly between war time and modern times, with Butch Guice drawing the former and Carlos Magna the latter. It's a great use of the artists, and Guice is particularly well-suited to the World War II material, as his realistic art softens the intrusion of the fantastical characters, and actually makes the mostly-naked buff elf and guy dressed as a flag feel like they fit there without too much suspension of disbelief. Like, I know neither of my grandfathers met Namor or Captain America in the European theater, but the way Guice draws the heroes, it doesn't seem that fantastical to suggest they might have, you know...?

While I'm not as familiar with Magno's art, and thus not as appreciative of it as I am Guice's, the style is a nice compromise between the more stately and realistic Guice aesthetic and that of the rest of the current Marvel Universe. That is, Magno's sections appear to fit with both the world that Guice was drawing and what one might see in, say, Avengers.

Hammond is working on a book about The Invaders, and chatting with Cap about his recent run-ins with Namor, and how maybe the war never really ended for the scion of Atlantis, and therefore how, perhaps, Namor needs saving, by the only people who were there in the war with him who are still around. As the pair investigate, it becomes clear that the United States Navy is up to something, and so Cap calls on Bucky to do his espionage thing. What they discover, gradually, is the source of Namor's new powers, his secret history with Xavier and a particularly sympathetic family, and a weird weapon that will allow Atlantis to annex parts of the surface world, something that reminded me of that weird "Sub Diego" phase of last decade's Aquaman comics.

I really dig these characters, and I thought this was a remarkably compelling comic featuring them, one that finds away to feature them both in their native setting and in the modern Marvel Universe. I'm looking forward to the next volume...which wasn't something I said after the last time I read an Invaders Vol. 1.

At least, I never read volumes 2 and 3 of that James Robinson-written series...

Komi Can't Communicate Vols. 1-2 (Viz Media) This is a really fun manga. Everyone at school thinks Shoko Komi is perfection itself, due to her incomparable beauty and her impossibly cool, detached, above-it-all attitude, a rarity in a socially hyper-conscious environment like high school.

Our point-of-view character Hitohito Tadano is the only one who sees through her icy outer layer to the real reason she does things like, for example, ignore him when he introduces himself, then stare at him, and then walk away without saying a word to him when he introduces himself on the first day of school. Komi, as the cover of the book says, can't communicate.

Tadano's own personal plan for his new life at his new school is to be as perfectly ordinary as possible, to blend in and avoid making any waves. This becomes difficult when it turns out that he's sitting next to Komi, the girl everyone else at school wishes they were sitting next to. And it becomes more difficult still when he eventually realizes that Komi is actually paralyzed by a social anxiety that makes speaking to anyone at all in almost any circumstances a near impossibility. After a lengthy "conversation" via school blackboard, Tadano, and thus the readers, are let in on Komi's secret, a secret no one else ever seems to have caught on to, and which she couldn't reveal herself because of how difficult it is for her to talk to people.

With Tadano now her confidant and something of a Komi-whisperer, it becomes his job to help her learn to communicate and meet her goal: To make 100 friends. Tadano, of course, is Friend #1.

From there, the first two volumes are a chronicle of Komi and Tadano's quest, with manga-ka Tomohito Oda masterfully shifting between the two views of Komi, the cool, calm, collected picture of perfection that the rest of the world seems to see, and the real Komi, who communicates with Tadano mainly by writing what she wants to say on a notepad, and with the reader through shifting into a few degrees of cartooniness, so that her facial features all disappear except for her suddenly huge and wide eyes. Eventually, Tadano gets to the point where he can basically read her mind, and serves as her translator.

Komi's inability to speak is played for laughs, and is the dominant running gag of the series. When Tadano asks her to rehearse saying "Let's be friends" out loud, she freezes for three panels, and then turns to stone. When he introduces her to his old friend Najimi Osana, who used to be a boy but is now a girl and who, helpfully, is friends with everyone in school (except Komi), Komi gets to the second word "be," before she basically short-circuits, and keeps saying "bee bee bee" while staring into space and trembling.

But Oda doesn't focus solely on Komi's trouble communicating; instead, we gradually see that everyone has some similar difficulty in communicating with their fellow student. Tadano, remember, wanted to not stand out in any way. Najimi, who is friends with everyone, can't meet Komi's eyes without trembling herself, and the two of them can't be left alone, as only Tadano and can translate for them.

When they try to make Friend #3, they choose Himiko Agari, who is incredibly nervous and jittery, especially when people are looking at her. So Tadano and Osana think her social anxiety might complement Komi's, and send Komi to befriend her, which, because Komi is afraid to talk to her, has the result of Komi stalking her and staring ominously at her from around corners (They eventually do become friends, sort of, with Agari considering herself Komi's "dog"; look, Japanese comics can be weird, okay?).

The following chapters basically split their attention between Komi achieving new milestones as she attempts to make friendsgetting her first ever cellphone (having never had a reason for one before), having Tadano and Najimi over to her house, going shopping or out to eat with friendsand the introduction of new characters into her growing peer group, each of whom have issues of their own, like popular girl Yamai, who has a crush on Komi and is also a complete psychotic, and Nakanaka who is, to use Oda's terminology, "going through a phase." (At his previous school, Tadano went through several phases, which is why he decided to not stand out at his new school.)

The point seems to be that everyone has some issue, even the most popular and outgoing people, and these issues, or peculiarities, that keep people apart, can also bring people together.

I mean, that's one level. On another, more immediate level, it's also a really fun, really funny high school comedy. I kind of love it.

Star Wars: Age of Republic—Heroes (Marvel) This trade paperback is a companion to the Villains trade covered in the previous column, similarly collecting a series of four one-shots by writer Jody Houser, plus the portions of the Star Wars: Age of Republic Special #1 that wasn't collected in Villains. The only real differences between the two are, first and most obviously, this one features the good guys from the prequel trilogy of Star Wars movies, Episodes I through III and, secondly, they are all drawn by the art team of pencilers Cory Smith and Wilton Santos an inkers Walden Wong.

It's also a bit less interesting because, let's face it, the heroes of the Star Wars saga are generally not as cool or interesting as the villains, and this is triply true of this group of heroes: Qui-Gon Jin, Obi Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala. That's three righteous warrior monks, each of whom are rebellious compared to the rest of their order of boring righteous warrior monks, but are far, far removed from the likes of, say, the "Age of Rebellions" roguish, reluctant heroes Han Solo and Lando Calrissian, and a similarly stiff space senator.

The format is just like that of the Villains one-shots. These are each standalone, portrait-like stories depicting the essential nature of the characters, without interfering with the already quite filled-in stories of the characters' lives. Each begins with a pin-up-style image featuring the character and a sentence or two explaining who they are, and each is followed with a prose article about the character's role in the saga.

The first comic, Qui-Gon Jin, is set before Episode I, as it would of course have to be. Obi-Wan, still in his unfortunate hairstyle phase, appears briefly, but this is more-or-less a Qui-Gon solo story.

He is in the middle of mediating negotiations on a planet between a princess who protects a particular forest and a Metal Clan that wants to cut the trees down. After some particularly dynamic scenes involving panels full of laser blasts and Qui-Gon's use of the Force to all but fly—the Heroes art is quite a bit more action-packed, making up for what it loses in likenesses to the original actors in their more fluid, comic book-y movements—Qui-Gon flees to Coruscant with the princess.

There, he struggles with the Jedi's role as weapons of The Republic, which they are not supposed to be, but everyone assumes them to be. It takes a conversation with Yoda and a brief vision quest full of some pretty cool imagery for him to find the balance he seeks and the solution to the problem on the planet he was negotiating on.
Next is Obi-Wan Kenobi, starring in a story set between Episode I and Episode II, sometime shortly after the death of Qui-Gon more-or-less forced him to become the still very young Anakin's mentor (Here, Anakin is drawn so that he looks like he's about halfway between Jake Lloyd than Hayden Christensen).

If much official attention has been paid to this period of the two characters' fictional lives, I haven't seen it, and it must certainly be dwarfed by that paid to the time between Episode II and Episode III, the actual Clone Wars. Obi-Wan is full of doubt about his ability to properly train Anakin, who realizes that Obi-Wan didn't exactly choose to be his master, and he gets a pep talk of sorts from Yoda. Yoda, it seems, is like the Jedi Council's Ann Landers in these comics.

Convinced to take Anakin with him on his latest mission, to protect a Jedi artifact from raiders on a planet of purple chicken people, Obi-Wan and Anakin come to an understanding about their relationship.

That's followed by Anakin Skywalker, and it appears to be set during the Clone Wars, but I have no idea where, exactly...before the start of the 3D Clone Wars cartoon, I guess, as there's no sign of Ahoska.

Anakin and Obi-Wan are both generals now, leading clone armies in the war. Anakin's perfectly content using his piloting and fighting skills to destroy droids by the score, but finds himself faced with an awkward dilemma when a Republic ship plans to bomb a droid factory being run by a local population. That means that lots of non-droids are going to get killed, but if they send in ground troops, then lots of their own people will get killed too. "Either way, people will die," the admiral in charge of the ship tells him. "And it's our job to make sure it isn't our people."

Anakin chats with Kenobi in the mess hall—because Yoda wasn't around to give out advice, I guess—and eventually decides to just fly down to the droid factory and destroy it solo (Ironically, he tells himself, "We don't commit mass murder from a distance." Which is true. He commits it at arm's length, with his laser sword...this is before he slaughters all the padawans at the Jedi temple in Episode III, and I honestly can't remember which movie he slaughtered all the sand people in). It turns out that the droid factory is being operated by enslaved locals, so it's a good thing they didn't space-bomb it.

Anakin being Anakin, and the roger-roger droids being basically sentient folding chairs holding rifles, he's able to destroy them all, free the locals (who, oddly, look like humanoid-shaped tauntauns, although I'm sure they are a pre-existent space race) and help them overthrow the installation in a couple of pages. I still find those droids pretty funny, in how...bad they are at being an army of murder-bots. Like here, when Anakin jumps off a railing and does an Iron Man pose behind two of them, one responds, "Hey! You aren't supposed to be here!" (I still really hope that Chuck Wendig's Aftermath trilogy crew makes it into a comic or cartoon at some point, in part because I'd loved to see Mister Bones**).

Next, there's Padme Amidala, which is almost as much about her bodyguard/handmaidens Moteé and Dormé, two characters I'm completely unfamiliar with, but now that I think of it, I'm fairly certain they appeared in at least one of the movies, although I don't think they were named. As with the other stories in this volume, it sends the title character on a mission to a different planet to resolve some sort of political issue; here, Padme finds herself targeted for assassination, and ends up assassinating the assassinby shooting her in the back. That's not terribly heroic, but then, I guess her little blaster gun must have been set to stun, as the last page has the sniper being dragged away in handcuffs, while Padme talks about where she will be tried.

The final bits of the book are two short, 10-page stories from the Age of Republic Special. The first is by Houser, and features art by Paolo Villanelli. It's a Mace Windu story, and is basically just another portrait of how bad-ass and unstoppable he is. The climactic action scene is pretty great though, as he uses the Force to reassemble the light saber his captors took apart, and then send it flying towards him ("Do not let it get to the Jedi!" one of his captors yells while trying to stop it, and gets his hand chopped off in the process. That's one of my favorite things about Star Wars; casual dismemberment by light saber!). There's more to the story than just a cool action scene, but thank God for the cool action scene nonetheless. The villain, a hulking warlord who wears some kind of maned skull over his faceor else it's a mask, or else that's his actual face, because the alien race he belongs to have faces that look like skull masksis also pretty cool looking.

Also, the word "kilometers" is used twice in this story. I didn't realize they used the metric system a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. I guess everyone outside the U.S. does.
The other short story is written by Marc Guggenheim and drawn by Caspar Wijngaard, making it the only part of the suite of comics not written by Houser. Entitled "501 Plus One," it is the story of that particular group of clone soldiers, particularly their leader, Rex.

The more famous character is the "Plus One," though, Senator Jar Jar Binks. Who gets a light saber in this story...or, at least, wields it one panel, poses dramatically with it, and then drops it ("Ooo, eesa muy slipidy...").

I've become somewhat fascinated with Jar Jar's place in the Star Wars universe of late, particularly attempts to paint him as a sympathetic figure because he is now sometimes reviled in-story in the same way he was in real life. So here, for example, we see him making a sad face while hiding in the bushes, hearing two of the troopers meant to be protecting him talking about him. Wijngaard definitely draws him well, and he even looks kinda cool in the panels where he's holding the light saber. His voice and pidgin language also seems to be a lot less annoying, if not much less offensive, when read off a comics page, as opposed to being heard spoken and performed.


Credo: The Rose Wilder Lane Story (Drawn & Quarterly) Damn, when it comes to subjects for comics biographies, Peter Bagge sure knows how to pick 'em. Even if you somehow managed to disentangle Wilder Lane from the fascinating psycho-drama with her mother, her life would still be packed so full of excitement, adventure and import as to make for a killer biography. What I like most about Bagge's comics biographies, however, is that they often manage to be pretty hilarious, thanks in large part to his style. The above sequence, in which Rose's mother hears her daughter is so depressed she's eating crackers in bed and leaps into actionscolding her for eating crackers in bed and, um, that's itis maybe my favorite part of the book, but it was hardly the only part that made me laugh out loud. Or, as the kids say, "LOL." Anyway, here's my TCJ review of Credo.

Extraordinary: The Story of an Ordinary Princess (Dark Horse Books) The way in which Princess Basil defeats the second of the two dragons encountered in this book is extraordinarily badass, and depicted quite dramatically.

Ironheart Vol. 1: Those With Courage (Marvel Entertainment) I know I discussed this for a couple paragraphs in last month's column, but here's a formal review from Good Comics For Kids.

*I often bristle at Marvel's habit of defining runs in their trade collection by writer rather than writer and artist, but this title has only one writer and lots of artists coming and going, so I guess, in that respect, it's not so terrible to refer to it as "Avengers by Jason Aaron"...although I guess "Avengers by Jason Aaron et al" wouldn't kill them, either. Or just, you know, "Avengers". If they didn't reboot and renumber the title every time they got a new writer, they wouldn't have to worry about this stuff at all.

**And, of course, because Sinjir Rath Velus is awesome. Now that's a group of heroes who is infinitely less boring than these Episode I-III jokers.

Friday, September 27, 2019

On the visual depiction of sound in Operatic

Earlier this month I wrote a review of writer Kyo Maclear and artist Byron Eggenschwiler's excellent graphic novel, Operatic. Much of the subject matter of their book revolved around music, which is part of what makes it such a remarkable book. Sound of any kind being incredibly difficult to capture in a comic, it therefore almost always stands out when someone finds a new or effective way to do so. Think Doug Moench, and his ability to come up with perfect onomatopoeia for his kung fu-filled super-comics that borders on synesthetic Foley work. Or James Stokoe's now-famous Godzilla roar in Godzilla: Half-Century War. Or Russell Dauterman's use of size and shape of sound effects in his art on Thor comics to imply a sense of scale to them.
In Operatic, illustrator-turned-comics artist Eggenschwiler repeatedly comes up with new and interesting ways to draw sound, music and its impact on its listeners. I talked at some length about all of this in my review, but I wanted to return to the subject here on my blog, where I could better share examples.

If you haven't read Operaticand I really think you shouldit's the story of  middle schooler Charlie and where her life is at when her time in middle school is officially coming to an end. She and her friends are in a music class taught by the charismatic Mr. K. He believes that somewhere in the universe, there is one perfect song for each and every individual, and he gives his students an assignment based on that principle. He wants them all to look for their song, and, when they find it, write about it, integrating research on its performer.

But how will they know a song is their song?

"You might not know it's the song the first time you hear it. It might creep on you. But eventually it should make you feel like it was made for you. It should feel like home.

Mr. K.'s song is A-ha's "Take On Me," which is, of course, a great song, even if his students don't necessarily see it as such.

I kind of love the bit where they ask him what the F the words of the title even mean, and he responds thusly:

Mr. K grew up, Charlie narrates to us, "like, a million years ago, in the 1980s." When talking about Mr. K's song, Charlie calls it "The one where the singer starts really low but ends up singing so high you can practically hear the top of his head flipping open." That description is...apt. (In the panel above, by the way, you can see one of Eggenschwiler's sound effects; the sharp, straight yellow lines emanating from Mr. K's snapping fingers. Obviously, he's snapping his fingers, and I don't know about you, but I can hear them snapping by looking at the image.)

Later, Mr. K talks about how when he is listening to the song, it takes him back, and while this is a bit more effective with the two pages side-by-side as a spread, as they are in the book, check out how the creators handle the sequence:

The "present" narrative of Operatic is rendered primarily in yellow (a flashback is drawn in blue, while the events of Marie Callas' life are drawn in red), and here we watch as the "real" Mr. K is broken down into his component parts of black and yellow, gradually transforming into less and less distinct versions of himself, until he is music, or perhaps just the feelings of that music, the yellow swooping line and the black music notes and "DOO DOO DOO" being the same stuff he himself is made of. Note how, in the next two panels, the yellow line of the music encircles and frames specific happy memories from those years, and then gradually re-forms into the real Mr. K at the end.

That's an all-around beautiful sequence, perfectly illustrating the way in which music can take one back and unlock particular memories.

Less importantly, but still amusing to me, is the way the sound of "Take On Me" is approximated with the "words" in that second panel, which, if you've heard the song as often as I have (and/or are playing it on YouTube right now as you read this), you can actually see in the "DOO DOO DUH DOO DOO DOO" on the page.

I'm also not sure if this was intentional or not, but if you have seen the videowhich I've seen a million times or so, given that I was just starting elementary school around the time MTV was invented and that was one of the more compelling videos of its erayou know that it is set partially in a comic book, which is drawn in an extremely sketchy, all pencil, no ink style that Eggenschwiler's Operatic actually rather closely resembles.

Here, for example, are two frames of it:

Another song that Mr. K's class talks about at some length is Patti Smith's "Gloria," a song I wasn't quite as familiar with, owing perhaps due to it being released in 1975, a few years before I was even born, and the fact that it didn't have an animated video in heavy rotation in the first years of MTV (Now, Laura Branigan's 1982 "Gloria," on the other hand...).

Anyway, Mr. K and the students talk at some length about Smith, and his more cynical students respond with, "I don't get it, sir. She can't really sing" and "Yeah. She sounds kind of demented. I mean, you know, off."

Here's how Mr. K introduces the song to them, though, and how Eggenschwiler draws it:
The music is still just lines, in the basic colors of the comicblack, yellow and whitebut they are more jagged, more unruly and less elegant and formed than the pop music of A-ha, or even the simple sound of Mr. K snapping his fingers.

Patti Smith is a pretty important part of the book, which opens with a quote from her: "When I was a teenager, I dreamed of being an opera singer like Maria Callas."

Charlie, Operatic's teenage protagonist, dreams of being Maria Callas...maybe not being an opera singer like her, but of making her own music, and of being the sort of a person as well as artist that Callas was. In Callas, Charlie finds her song, and here, too, Eggenschwiler comes up with an interesting way of portraying that music sneaking up on and grabbing Charlie:

The very next image is too big to fit on my scanner bed, but it is a two-page spread in which there is no background, just the off-white color of the page. In the foreground, Charlie's desk has toppled, her chair is tangled in the ornate vine of Callas' song, and she herself has all but disappeared. She retains her shape, but it is just outline, filled defined by hr tennis shoes, hair, three lines for her closed eyes and smile, and the music that has enveloped her, which blooms red flowers, red, again, being the sound of Callas.

The next panel following that, we see Charlie's classmates reacting, their words trying and failing to cut through the song"Una Voce Poco Fa" by Callasin dialogue balloons shaped like the tools one might use to attack a vine.

Here's an image of a young Callas learning to sing, summoning a butterfly shape.
Later there's a two-page spread of her singing, and the butterfly-shape of her song is huge, bigger than her, fluttering around a packed opera house, coming out of her mouth like fire from a dragon, its flight path described by vaguely ribbon-candy shaped hills and valleys of red and black lines.

It too was too big for my scanner, but I found an image of it online to filch:

There's...a lot of sound in the book.

For example:

And on and on. Much of the other images of sound are relatively minor, like the repetitive bold zig-zags of the thick black lines of a blaring car stereo, or the motion lines/sounds of Charlie's friends singing and dancing to Iggy Azalea's "Mo Bounce", or sketchy, lightning-like yellows arcing around a hair metal guitarist, or even the dialogue bubbles piled upon one another in a neat little two-dimensional stack when the whole class says "Yes, Mr. K" in unison.

The more—and more closely—I look at the art in this book, the more I find to admire in its creation.


On a similar note, but in an entirely different comic book, I really liked the way in which singing and music is drawn in the pages of George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott and Harmony Becker's The Called Us Enemy, which is another rather excellent graphic novel you should also seek out and take some time to read. (I wrote a review of that one too, but I can't link to it, as it hasn't yet been published. Hopefully it will see the light of day soon-ish.)

There are two pages in which young George and his family are around Christmas music, the first time while they are free, the second time during a Christmas event in their internment camp:

Sorry for the poor quality of this one; I couldn't get the page to rest on the scanner bed, as it comes much later in the book:

Artist Becker—there's no letterer credited, so I assumed she handled that as well—draws the lyrics of the music directly into the panels, and in cursive, which serves to differentiate it from the more common form of communication seen throughout the book. You know, talking.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Marvel's December previews reviewed

In a truly shocking turn of events, it seems that this December Marvel Entertainment will be investing a lot of energy! There's a new round of Annihilation, which is Marvel's name for space-characters-team-up-to-do-stuff, this one called Annihilation: Scourge, which seems to consist of five characer-specific over-sized one-shots and some kinda sorta tie-ins, like this month's Marvel Tales and True Believers. The 2099 event continues, with a whole bunch of one-shots which seem to indicate new versions of the old 2099 characters, but I could be completely wrong, having never read any of those (did Ghost Rider 2099 always have a chainsaw?). There's a big murder mystery event with the eyebrow-raising title of Incoming!, which unfortunately calls to mind DC's 2004 Identity Crisis (Ha, remember back then, Marvel's reaction to Identity Crisis was a little miniseries called Identity Disc, seemingly conceived just to troll DC? Then they did Civil War, sold gajillions of comics, and have been in constant event mode ever since). Heck, there's even a Conan-related event, with some other Robert E. Howard creations teaming up with big guy.

Looking at what Marvel plans to publish in the last month of this year, this is what caught my eye...

Continuing the 1950s-style adventures of the Agents of Atlas! Disturbing visions lead the team to the darkest depths of the Atlantic Ocean, where waits the Sub-Mariner! Then, Jimmy Woo and M-11 find themselves caught in the talons of the most terrible power in China…the deadly Jade Claw! And the Atomic Age heroes confront today’s mightiest heroes, the X-Men and the Avengers, in two time-twisting tales! But when Aphrodite targets Venus, can the Agents rescue their teammate — and handle the truth about her past? Plus, Norman Osborn sends his killer crew of Thunderbolts to bring down the Agents of Atlas — hard! Collecting AGENTS OF ATLAS (2009) #6-11, X-MEN VS. AGENTS OF ATLAS #1-2, AVENGERS VS. ATLAS #1-4, THUNDERBOLTS (1997) #139-140 and material from ASSAULT ON NEW OLYMPUS PROLOGUE, INCREDIBLE HERCULES #138-141 and HERCULES: FALL OF AN AVENGER #1-2.
448 PGS./Rated T+ …$39.99
ISBN: 978-1-302-92272-6

Jeff Parker and company's Agents of Atlas comics are all great fun, and I'd highly recommend this and the previous volume of the Complete Collection series to anyone who hasn't read them. Alone, (most of) these characters are all quite compelling, interesting and cool, and together? They're even better.

I imagine these are being collected and published now to capitalize on any interest in the title being generated by its recent repurposing by Greg Pak and others as the name of an all-Asian super-team, rather than because of any upcoming multi-media adaptation or extrapolation, but I honestly wouldn't be surprised by Marvel announcing anything as a movie or a TV show anymore. I mean, they're doing an Eternals movie now; absolutely no Marvel announcement would surprise me anymore. (And Parker's reinvention of this motley crew of pre-Fantastic Four super-characters and his rather inspired secret hero-group-posing-as-a-secret-villain-group take seemed pretty much primed for a more comedic Marvel movie. Like, I've long maintained that Marvel Studios could have very easily done a Guardians of The Galaxy-style film starring this group instead of the Guardians. In fact, I was pretty confident that Jimmy Woo was going to be the first big break out Marvel movie hero of Asian descent, but I guess a Shang-Chi movie is on the way after all...)

I think I have almost all of theseI got a little lost at the end of the "Incredible Hercules" narrative when the title of the book changed a few times, so I'm not confident I have both of those Fall of An Avenger issuebut I might still be interested in purchasing these in this format, for ease of finding them and rereading them.

Cover by ROD REIS
A summons from S.H.I.E.L.D. leads Peter Parker into a globe-spanning adventure that will test him as never before — and the future of all mankind lies in his gloved, webbed hands! Who is the mysterious prisoner in the steel box who keeps propelling the wall-crawler onward? Nick Spencer and an all-star team of Marvel’s biggest writers and artists take up the challenge to create the wildest, maddest, most unconventional AMAZING SPIDER-MAN story of all! Guest-starring Nick Fury, Wolverine and Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham! Experience the amazing adventure in an action-packed oversized hardcover with a sensational array of surprises and extra features! Collecting AMAZING SPIDER MAN: FULL CIRCLE.
128 PGS./Rated T …$29.99
ISBN: 978-1-302-92138-5
Trim size: oversized

I was quite surprised to see this appear, and with that price tag attached, as it sounds like it's just the $9.99 one-shot being reprinted...with hard covers and a bigger trim-size...? Does that justify the extra $20? I guess that it depends on what the "sensational array of surprises and extra features" are, but somehow I doubt those can possibly be worth twice the cover price of the comic story preceding them...

Mark Waid (W) • Kev Walker (A)
Cover by Phil Noto
The impossible has happened! Doctor Strange’s hands have been healed, restoring his surgical skills - but now he’s being torn between his obligations as the Sorcerer Supreme and as a neurosurgeon. And when he’s forced to choose which vows to uphold, who suffers most for it? After all, magic always has a cost…Be here for a brand new era of magic…and horror from Mark Waid (HISTORY OF THE MARVEL UNIVERSE) and Kev Walker (BLACK PANTHER)!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Mark Waid is a good writer. And Kev Walker is a good artist. And this sounds like a pretty interesting premise for a Dr. Strange story arc. I don't think the change in status quo is a big enough deal to justify relaunching the series with a new #1 though, is it? I mean, this isn't even a new creative team; wasn't Waid writing the previous Dr. Strange book...? So they are just canceling that series and relaunching a new volume of it with a new #1 because, despite all evidence to the contrary, Marvel still clings to the totemic power of a "#1" on the cover of an ongoing series...?

Written by JACK KIRBY
Penciled by JACK KIRBY
In 1976, the legendary King of comics Jack Kirby returned to Marvel brimming with cosmic ideas — and none were bigger than the Earth-shattering immortals known as the Eternals! In this mind-blowing first issue, Kirby unleashes the full brilliance of his unbridled imagination to reveal a secret history of heroes and horrors — in which two bizarre branches of humanity’s cousins, the Eternals and the Deviants, vie to inherit the Earth! Prepare to meet Ikaris, Warlord Kro, and a colorful cast full of titans and terrors that could only have been conceived by the King himself! But who are the space gods known as the Celestials, and what happens if they are summoned back to Earth? It’s one of the all-time great Marvel comic books, boldly re-presented in its original form, ads and all! Reprinting ETERNALS (1976) #1.
32 PGS./ONE SHOT/Rated T … $3.99

Mark Gruenwald, Ralph Macchio, Peter Gillis (W)
Ron Wilson, Richard Buckler (A)
COVER BY Todd Nauck
In the “Untold Tales of the Marvel Universe,” the secret past of the Eternals is laid bare! See how space gods brought the Eternals to life! Discover the connections between the Eternals and Thanos, the Mad Titan! And learn the key role they played in the history of the Inhuman royal family! Collecting material from What If? (1977) #23 – 30.
56 PGS./ONE SHOT/Rated T ...$4.99

I'm super-glad Marvel is going to be making an effort to reprint some Eternals stuff ahead of the movie, because I know almost nothing about these characters beyond the fact that they are, like, the third or so of Jack Kirby's cosmic, god-like secret races of super-people, and maybe the least compelling of them.

I think the only comic featuring these characters I have read was Neil Gaiman and John Romita JR's miniseries, and all I remember of that was thinking 1) It was pretty disappointing, coming from a comics writer as great as Gaiman, 2) JRJR's art was nice and 3) Marvel kinda screwed JRJR on the trade dress of the hardcover collection.

I'm fairly certain I read a reprint of Eternals #1 somewhere too, but I'll be damned if I can remember where; maybe they reprinted it in the back of that Eternals collection...? Or was there a True Believers issue...?

JIM ZUB (W) • Issue #1 - SCOT EATON (A) • Issue #2 - Stephen Segovia (A)
JAMES ALLISON will soon die. But it’s not his first death. He’s lived many lives, in many places - lives he can recall in vivid detail. But when an Elder God called the WYRM reaches across time to James, an ages-spanning quest begins! The serpent god SET plans to usher in an eternity of darkness, and only the chosen warriors across time and space have a hope of stopping him: CONAN THE BARBARIAN, SOLOMON KANE, DARK AGNES, and the man known as MOON KNIGHT!
In an unprecedented comics event, Robert E. Howard’s characters join forces along with Marvel’s Moon Knight, in an all-new saga built on REH and Marvel lore from across the ages!

One of these things is not like the other...and it's Moon Knight. Moon Knight is the one that doesn't belong in a comic in which various Robert E. Howard creations team-up. Although I suppose finding out why they stuck Moon Knight in there will be one of the interesting things about these comics.

Are your children normal? Are they respectful of you and other approved authority figures? Do they have a poster of the Punisher on their wall?
Or are they angry and discourteous? Do they embrace difficult and/or dangerous concepts, such as protest and the environment? Do they stand with the Hulk?
Ask yourself: Are your children normal... or have they joined the TEEN BRIGADE?
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

The Teen Brigade! Perhaps the single most important team in the history of the Marvel Universe, as they kinda sorta founded the Avengers. I haven't mentioned it in a while, but remember Joe Casey and Nick Dragotta and company's excellent 2011-2012 series Vengeance, the series that introduced America Chavez...? That was a Teen Brigade series, although for some dumb reason Marvel decided to call it Vengeance and market it with random-ish Marvel villains on all the covers, perhaps because they didn't think a title like Teen Brigade would sell, and because Rob Liefeld had already used Brigade for a comic book series, so they couldn't just drop the "Teen" from the title.

I imagine Ewing has something rather different in mind, and he would almost have to in order to fit them into the story he's been telling in Immortal Hulk, but I also imagine his take will be rather worthwhile, as this series has consistently been surprisingly, shockingly good.

Cover by Patrick Gleason
Variant Cover by DUSTIN WEAVER
Variant Cover by SANFORD GREENE
A mysterious murder brings together the heroes of the Marvel Universe in the search for a killer - but no one can imagine where the trail will lead, or how it will affect everything in 2020 and beyond! Who is the victim and who is the assailant?
The closing chapter to MARVEL’s 80th year, which will connect the dots of everything that happened in 2019 and propel the narrative into the year that is to come! Featuring the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Daredevil, Spider-Man, the Champions, the Agents of Atlas, Valkyrie, the Immortal Hulk, Jessica Jones, Venom, Ghost Rider, the Masked Raider and more!
96 PGS./ONE SHOT/Rated T+ …$9.99

I'm not sure how much stock to put in these covers in terms of looking for clues to the identity of the murder victim. Like, is it someone not pictured reacting to the body...? If the character is on one or both of the covers, does that mean they are safe, or just that the artist drawing that particular cover wasn't given that detailed information, but was instead just told to draw all of the biggest characters...and/or those most relevant to the current line...? I don't even know if we should put much stock in the body seen on the second cover as being the actual body; it could just be a place-holder. If not though, than at least it's a man; I think we've seen enough ladies murdered in super-comics. Let's let a man take a turn in the fridge, huh?

I'm a little curious about who on Earth the victim could be that it would mean something to all of those characters. Like, there aren't many characters who mean anything at all to the Avengers, The Fantastic Four and The X-Men, you know? Especially if we assume it's not a super-hero, as they've pretty much all died and come back to life at some point in the last decade. (My best guesses would have been Rick Jones or Jarvis, but the latter was just returned from being killed in the pages of Secret Empire, and it seems like Marvel flirted with the idea of killing off Jarvis in the Avengers series No Surrender, only to hospitalize him instead.


"Masked Raider"...? Who the hell is the Masked Raider...? The cowboy guy? Maybe he's the one who is murdered! And that's why everyone is so shocked on that Gleason cover! They are shocked because they can't believe they are in a comic book about a dead cowboy!

It all ends here! Can NAMOR be redeemed as the world drowns? Or will THE SPEAR crush THE INVADERS and remake the world in their image?
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Where I left off with this series, the end of the first trade paperback collection, original, android Human Torch Jim Hammond had his head ripped off his body, and was hooked up to some wires and stuff in Tony Stark's lab. So it's not completely surprising that he might have a new, bulkier, more robotic-looking body that bears a resemblance to one of Iron Man's suits of super-armor. But that still doesn't explain why he now has a flaming mullet, like a secondary fire-character from a late 1980s Firestorm comic.

DON'T DO THIS, MARVEL! I am still getting used to Namor's new long-haired, oddly-positioned armor look; I can't deal with that and a hideously redesigned Golden Age Torch at the same time!

Peni Parker, A.K.A. SP//dr is back!
The corruption of the Spider-Verse has reached Earth-14512 and Peni is in deep trouble.
Can Miles Morales help Peni defeat an all-new villainous incarnation?!X
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99

Wait a second, is that a Spider-gelion...?

Reprinting Fantastic Four (1961) #140
32 PGS./Rated T …$1.00

The theme for this month's True Believers reprints is Annihilation, and looking at the books being reprinted, it seems like they are all the first appearances of various characters who will be appearing in the latest Annihilation-branded space crossover, as, regardless of the titles of the actual comics being reprinted, their True Believers titles all feature the words Annihilation and the names of particular characters. So we see the origins or first appearances of many of the expected space-related characters, like Annihilus, Nova Richard Ryder, Quasar, Moondragon, Mantis and The Super-Skrull, but also some unexpected surprises, like Omega The Unknown and Man-Wolf (who really oughta get his own movie at some point; if Sony is going to try and make their very own answer to the Marvel Cinematic Universe out of characters associated with Spider-Man, than Man-Wolf's a pretty good candidate).

Oh, and there's also a reprint of an issue from Walt Simonson's Thor run entitled True Believers: Annihilation–Odinpower. Looking at these reprints as clues as to what the hell might be going on in Annihilation: Scourge, it seems to be all over the place in an interesting, and perhaps lucrative for Marvel, way (It was the earlier Annihilation books that gave us the modern incarnation of The Guardians of The Galaxy by teaming up a bunch of particularly random space characters, for example).

Witness one of James Allison’s past lives in this adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s classic! Reprinting Supernatural Thrillers (1973) #3
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$1.00

There's also one issue of True Believers that has nothing to do with Annihilation, though. Instead, this one ties into the Conan event comic.

Considering how much I enjoyed the Conan suite of True Believers, I kinda wish they reprinted an old Marvel Conan or Robert E. Howard adaptation once a week...

Al Ewing & JASON AARON (W) • Pere Pérez (A) • Cover by MAHMUD ASRAR
But are they all about to become doctors to the dead?! Doctor Strange, Night Nurse, Cardiac, Faiza Hussain and more join forces with Jane Foster for a supernatural medical emergency that will give you heart palpitations!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

I haven't seen Faiza Hussain in a while now, but I really liked her character and her sadly short-lived series, Captain Britain and MI13. I was actually just thinking of that series the other day while reading Avengers By Jason Aaron Vol. 4: War of The Vampires, as I preferred that depiction of Marvel Dracula to the one in Aaron's Avengers...