Friday, August 02, 2019

A Month of Wednesdays: June 2019


Archie #705 (Archie Comics) You know, it didn't really occur to me until just now that this isn't a relaunch of Archie under a different title, as I thought it was going to/supposed to be. Yes, it says "Archie and Sabrina" all gigantic on the cover, right where one would expect the title of the comic to be, and there is a giant "1" in the upper right-hand corner. But there's also a little "of five" under that giant numeral, and there's a little "#705" in the upper left-hand corner. The fine print on the title page says this issue is indeed Archie #705, so I guess "Archie and Sabrina" is actually the title of this story arc...? Although since this issue is a continuation of the in-progress story from writer Nick Spencer, it's not even really quite a brand-new arc. Oh, and there's still that "Archie Forever" slug across the top...whatever that means.

Anyway, this all seems quite Marvel of Archie Comics.

Dig that gorgeous Elsa Charretier cover though, huh?

The interior is by Spencer and artist Sandy Jarrell. It obviously looks great, and while Spencer's writing is okay, the story is moving very, very slowly, and not much of anything is different in this issue than it was throughout the last few. Given the pacing, I think I'm switching to trades on the title--whether that title is actually Archie or Archie and Sabrina.

I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up (Seven Seas Entertainment) Kodama Naoko, the manga-ka responsible for NTR: Netsuzou Trap, created this rather delightful standalone manga with a premise pretty thoroughly delineated in its title. Straight-laced professional Morimoto's overbearing mother won't stop pestering her to get married, and is continuously sending her information about eligible bachelors. She's considered making up a boyfriend just to get her parents off her back, but she knows them well enough to know that no one she could even make up would be good enough for her mother.

That's when her high school friend Hana proposes a radical solution: Why don't they just marry each other? Sure, Hana likes girls, and once, when they were both still  in high school, she did ask Morimoto out, but, when she was rejected, she never brought up anything romantic again, beyond some teasing. Given that Hana needs a place to live at the moment anyway, a sham marriage between the pair solves more than one problem.

They quickly fall into marriage-like dynamics, with Hana, who works as an illustrator from home, handling all the cleaning and cooking, which Morimoto is helpless at. Meanwhile, Morimoto continues to commute to her office job everyday, working long, long hours. Unsurprisingly, the fake marriage and living as wife and wife leads to something more, as Morimoto gradually awakens to the fact that she doesn't just like having Hana around to keep her parents at bay and cook her dinner, but because she really does love her.

While Naoko's artwork is quite familiar from NTR, and the romance-between-women aspect is obviously here, this is much more of a romantic manga than an erotic manga, with little in the way of nudity (I think the women share one bath throughout the book, which rather mortifies Morimoto) and nothing in the way of sex, although it is quite sexy at several points. If one comes to the book specifically seeking the prurient, girl-on-girl thrills of NTR, then one will likely be disappointed, although the book obviously offers many other charms.

There's an even shorter standalone story in the back of the volume, "Anaerobic Love," which involves a kinda sorta romance between two high school girls, although this one has much higher emotions and much less in the way of romance or sex. It's basically a short, sweet sketch of a weird relationship between two teens, one of whom is a quite angsty athlete.

Jughead's Time Police #1 (Archie) The last time we saw a new iteration of Jughead's Time Police, it was in a daydream sequence in Chip Zdarsky and Erica Henderson's too-short run on the too-short Jughead "ongoing" series of, like, 16 issues. I'm glad there's another Jughead book on the stands, and that this one is being drawn by Derek Charm, who drew the issues of Jughead that Henderson didn't, and who is probably my favorite living Archie artist.

Charm is joined by Iceman writer Sina Grace and colorist Matt Herms. Though obviously set in the post-reboot, "New Riverdale" universe--it even has the "Archie Forever" branding along the top--the mode here is much more straight comedic, as it was in the last Jughead comic. The main conflict facing our hero is that he accidentally, spectacularly screwed up the Pendleton Family lemon meringue pie he had entered in the Riverdale pie contest to vie for the grand prize, a lifetime of pies and jams. In fact, he screwed it up so badly that not only was his entry disqualified, but he was banned from the contest--for life! (The result of accidentally putting fish oil in the pie, and thus giving all the judges food poisoning).

Obviously, there was only one thing to do: Build a time machine, and then travel back in time to stop himself from screwing up the recipe.

So he spends all of one page studying physics, comic books and time travel movies, and, with the help of Dilton Doiley and Hotdog, he's able to build a fully functioning time machine, which he and Archie use to travel back in time. Things go awry, however, and before he can make his second attempt, he is confronted by (an unnamed) January McAndrews.

Grace's script is quite economic, and there's no time or space wasted in it; he jumps from joke to joke, and there's nothing in here that doesn't serve either the silly plot or the telling of jokes. This is by far the best writing I've seen from Grace, and I imagine that has something to do with the differences of the Marvel Universe milieu and that of Riverdale...that, or perhaps the difficulty of writing Marvel's mutant characters in general. His Iceman comics always seemed pretty good, but also somewhat off, as if they were in conflict with themselves over meeting the various needs of continuity heavy corporate super-comics (also the art was, almost to an issue, not-that-great...or, to put it more kindly, not my thing, I guess).

Charm's artwork is as good as it has ever been. He is particularly great at making the Archie Comics kids look like kids, and his style is perfectly suited to bridging the more modern, realistic take of post-reboot Archie and the classic, flatter, cartoonier look of the characters. His Reggie, who appears briefly in his role as part of The Archies band, seems to have lost his Captain Marvel eyes, and Charm's Dilton seems to be a new design, with a bowl cut of a hair helmet and a sense of style that is less traditionally cool teen than that of his peers.

I had high hopes for this book, and I'm glad the first issue met them.

Justice League #25 (DC Comics) This "EXTRA-SIZED ANNIVERSARY ISSUE" includes a slightly-longer-than-usual story concluding Scott Snyder and Jorge Jimenez's "The Sixth Dimension" arc, as well as a 16-page back-up by writer James Tynion IV and artist Javier Fernandez...although the former flows into the latter in such a way that it certainly all feels like one long story. Were it not for the credits and the change in artists, one might not even realize that "The Sixth Dimension" and "The Message" were two different stories, as the back-up begins seconds after the main story ends.

While Snyder and Jimenez's story seemed to go on a bit too long for my liking, with what felt like an excessive amount of time being spent on detailing the future world, and a somewhat uninspired detour to a prison planet, now that the story is complete, it's a little more clear what the creators were up to, and precisely why the story was as many issues long as it was. It's actually a quite strong ending, highlighting particularly remarkable aspects of Superman and Batman's characters, as well as their relationship, and what the League does for Superman.

A lot of the issue involves a big fight between our Justice League and the future Justice League, with our Batman having thrown in with the World Forger's future League, and it's not that great, as big superhero action sequences go. The various Leaguers are all so powerful, that pitting them in combat with one another generally means writing them unrealistically--that is, unrealistic within the reality of their milieu.

So, for example, the two John Stewarts use their magical wishing rings to just generate large tanks (which they never actually fire one one another with, and neither bothers to use a force field for some reason, so that Future John is susceptible to a punch in the face), and the two J'onn J'onnzs just grow to kaiju-sized versions of themselves and duke it out with one another, even though the ability to become intangible should preclude blows landing all that easily on either of them.

The resolution of the fight, in which Superman escapes his inescapable prison and he and Batman determine the one possibility to avert the future that the Forger didn't think of, is pretty great though, and it's a really Superman solution to the problem (and Jimenez manages a rather nice homage to Frank Quitely's All-Star Superman, of which he's obviously a fan, in the process).

In "The Message", the Justice League, Forger and Shane (Future J'onn and Future Hawkgirl's hawk-winged martian child) return to the present, in a story that mainly covers the same ground as DC's Year of The Villain #1. Mera, Starman and Jarro get them up to speed on the Legion of Doom and Bat-Mite vs. Mxyzptlk fight (which apparently happened completely off-panel, which is awfully fucking disappointing; that would have been a lot more fun than some of the time-killing events of "The Sixth Dimension"), the Legion's attack on Waller and Luthor's announcement and very public exploding of himself.

We also see the League suggesting various ways to proceed in order to save all of existence. Forger says they should seek out The Monitor and Anti-Monitor in the hopes that the three cosmic beings can repel their mother Perpetua. Starman says they should recruit an army from throughout the multiverse, and he says so in a panel showing a handful of characters from DC One Million's Justice Legion A and Multiversity's House of Heroes. Wonder Woman says they need to recruit the whole DC Universe into a mega-League. J'onn concludes that they "need to do all of it. All of it and more."

And you know what that means? It means the Justice League splitting up into smaller teams to complete various tasks simultaneously, likely before reuniting for the exciting climax. Which is perfect, as that's their favorite thing to do.

Oh, and also we see the reborn Luthor wearing a cloak and launching some drones to go out and start making Underworld Unleashed offers.

Justice League #26 (DC) The next story arc begins right where the last issue left off, with the #25's back-up creative team at the wheel. Tynion and Fernandez launch "Apex Predator" with the Leaguers breaking up into smaller groups and pursuing the various strategies laid out last issue...with J'onn going a bit rogue.

While J'onn uses his psychic abilities to monitor the fallout of Luthor's doomsday pronouncement and searches for the supposedly dead Luthor, Hawkgirl and Mera walk-and-talk around the Hall of Justice, surveying how the dozens of heroes they've recruited are prepping for the upcoming justice/doom war, while the rest of the League visit the House of Heroes to attempt to raise a multiversal army.

The House of Heroes sequence has Justice Leagues from across the Multiverse listening to Superman and Forger, and is full of little cameos-as-Easter eggs. Kingdom Come Flash and Superman get a line apiece, there's a Batman Beyond standing around, various Zoo Crew members are scattered around the background, there's a panel of Gotham By Gaslight Batman and Kelley Jones and Doug Moench's vampire Batman with what looks like a Human Bomb and the Wonder Woman from Amazonia.

Fernandez devotes a two-page spread to "our" League standing in the foreground, addressing various Justice Leagues from different universes, and it's somewhat disappointing in how sketchy the Leagues are drawn, and how far away most of them are from the "camera." One can pick out many of the Leagues--the Bizarro one from "Escape From Bizzaro World," the New 52's Earth 2 JSA, one of DC's Avengers analogues--but I wish it was a more complete, more crisp image, where every character was easy to identify, and one could spend a good twenty minutes studying the page, and be rewarded for doing so (Like, it's a nice enough image, but it didn't floor me the way it seemed like it should, and I couldn't help but imagine what Phil Jimenez or George Perez might have done with it).

The scene in the Hall is similarly full of cameos, although there are fewer characters, and obviously less obscure ones, as they are all characters from the "Rebirth"-ed New 52-iverse, all divided into teams or squads. So Ryan Choi, Ted Kord, Mister Terrific and some Metal Men are doing science stuff in one room. Meanwhile Detective Chimp, The Question, Green Arrow, John Constantine (They let him smoke in the Hall of Justice?!) and Plastic Man (So, where is Elongated Man? Don't get me wrong, Plas is one of my all-time favorite comic book characters, but mysteries are Ralph's thing) are in a dark, detective-ing room. And, down the hall, Hawkman, Black Canary and Orphan (ugh, I hate that name) Cassandra Cain are throwing Teen Titans through walls in order to get them in fighting shape (these Titans include the teen girl version of Lobo and the blue kid, so they are completely up-to-date).

It's a pretty good issue showing how deep DC's crazy character catalog is, but it doesn't do too terribly much with all of those characters. That is, presumably, coming.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Comic #6 (Dark Horse Comics) While the book got awfully predictable awfully quickly by the halfway point, when the mystery of how on earth they would make a TV show about riffing over movies into a comic book  was resolved and Jonah, Tom Servo and Crow's various narratives were all introduced and established, I'm still going to be a little sorry to not see new issues of this showing up. I'm reading so few comic book-format comics books anymore, I'm getting to the point where I really cherish the ones I do (with this ending and Scooby-Doo Team-Up being cancelled, I'm basically just down to Justice League and the occasional miniseries I can't wait for the trade for). That, and new MST3K content is always welcome, even in comic book format (I do sincerely hope Dark Horse, Joel Hodgson, Harold Buchholz and company will consider other types of MST3K comics in the future).

So here we get one more Black Cat and Jonah Heston adventure, the completion of Tom Servo, Teen Reporter and one final Crow horror-hosted story from the pages of Horrific. And, because some sort of conclusion is needed, the device the Mads used to send Jonah and the 'bots into the comic books is destroyed when Crow jumps into one of their "ad traps" for Totino's Pizza Rolls. This leads to one unpredictable aspect: While Crow is back on the satellite with Jonah, Tom and the others, the horror host version stalks out of the shadows of the halls of Moon 13.

I'll be curious to read this in trade some day, to see how it hangs together in one sitting. I suspect that it might read better that way. At the very least, it will downplay the frustrating, repetitious nature of the serial presentation, I think.

Anyway, I'm glad they made this comic, and hope they make more.

True Believers: Spider-Man--Spider-Armor #1 (Marvel Entertainment) This is reprint of 1993's Web of Spider-Man #100, apparently significant for introducing a new, albeit extremely temporary, costume for Spider-Man. I really rather like the design of the costume, which is here drawn by pencil artist Alex Saviuk and inker Joe Rubenstein to look like real armor: It looks far bigger, bulkier and metallic than other, later spider-armors Spidey has donned in various comics video-games and movies.

The impetus for the costume change seems to be our hero looking for an edge in an ongoing battle against "The New Enforcers." This is very much a story in-progress. In the opening scenes, Spider-Man fights Dragon Man, Dreadnought and The (a?) Super-Adaptoid to a standstill, and then develops the armor for round two. It's destroyed well before the end of the issue, so I'm not sure if this chronicles the entire career of the Spider-Armor or not, but I liked it a hell of a lot more than, say, his maroon and gold "Iron Spider" costume...!

Now, I didn't start reading any Marvel comics until around 2000 or so, when the publisher started hiring writers I liked a lot away from DC's Vertigo imprint, so I missed this whole era of Spider-Man comics. Thus the reading of this issue was the very first I had learned of Nightwatch, Marvel's Spawn rip-off character and...I kind of wish I could go back to that more innocent time when I had no idea that Marvel had a Spawn rip-off character called "Nightwatch."


Angel Catbird Vol. 1 (Dark Horse Books) I slept on Margaret Atwood's modern, mainstream comics debut when it was originally released, but finally got around to it this month as I was preparing to review a later Atwood-written comic. I was surprised to find that the comic was every bit as weird as the unusual title made it sound. And yet, for the various unusual aspects of the comic, it's also a somewhat surprisingly basic superhero and/or urban fantasy comic.

Our hero Strig Feleedus is a cat-owner who starts his first day at a new job, working on a top-secret project, within the first pages of the Atwood's comic, which is drawn by Johnnie Christmas and colored by Tamra Bonvillain). Feleedus' job is perfecting a chemical formula of some sort for his boss Professor Muroid, but something unusual is going on at Muroid Inc.

He gets a clue as to what one fateful evening when he perfects the formula, just as his cat runs out into the street, pursuing a rat. An owl swoops down after the same mouse, and both cat and owl are struck and killed by a car. When Feleedus stoops to pick up his dead cat, the car backs up, seemingly killing him too, and the three victims are all left laying in a pool of the formula. He awakens on the next page as a cat/owl/human hybrid.

He is thus inducted into the world of cats and half-cats (as well as rats and half-rats), the latter of which can transform from normal human form, like his coworker Cate Leone, into a sort of were-cat form. Stig is unusual in that he can turn into a cat/bird form, but he's hardly unique; among the many cat-people Cate introduces him to are Count Catula, who is a vampire half-cat, and thus has various vampire powers, including the ability to turn into a bat.

It's...pretty weird. The tone see-saws from straight and dramatic to awkward comedy to genre parody, and while I didn't know quite what to expect, I wasn't expecting such a strange comic. Had Atwood's script leaned a little harder in another direction, this could have been a pretty straightforward superhero comic, in another a comic book version of that weird sub-genre of romance fiction involving shape-shifters or, in another direction, an out-and-out comedy. Instead, it finds an odd place between the three, Christmas' highly-realistic style making sure the art never advertising the book as a comedy. It's quite funny, of course, but its organically funny, because the characters say funny things, and are themselves so strange.

Also strange? Atwood has approached the comic as a type of advocacy, to help protect wild birds from domestic cat predation, and to protect domestic cats from the dangers the wild poses them. And so, in addition to passages of her lengthy prose introduction explaining some of the motivations for writing this comic and for encouraging people to keep cats as indoor rather than indoor/outdoor pets, pages throughout end with facts and figures identifying dangers to cats and birds.

It's a weird, weird, great comic.

Detective Comics #1,000: The Deluxe Edition (DC Comics) This $19.99 hardcover is basically just a reprint of the 96-page $9.99 paperback version of March's Detective Comics #1,000 (already reviewed in this post) with two additional 12-page stories and some 44 pages worth of variant covers, which I think includes every single available variant for the original issue, but it's hard to be sure when dealing with such high numbers.

I didn't re-read the original stories, so I don't have anything new to offer regarding those, but let's take a moment to discuss the new-to-this-package material. At least one of these new stories appears to be taken from the Walmart-exclusive Detective Comics: Batman 80th Anniversary Giant #1, as the fine print mentions that along with 'Tec #1,000, while the back cover refers to the new stories collectively only as "previously uncollected."

The first of these is a Robert Venditti-written, Stephen Segovia-drawn "Table For Two." It's a decent enough idea for an anniversary story, as its plot is basically an evergreen one, and it packs five villains into a very small page count. Alfred has finally prevailed upon Bruce Wayne to sit down for a proper meal at the dinner table, but before he can even take his first bite, he's called away on Bat-business. An unlikely alliance of villains leads Batman through a swathe of his rogue's gallery--Mad Hatter, Scarface and The Ventriloquist, The Penguin, Killer Croc--with each encounter providing him a clue to the next one. Waiting for him at the end is Two-Face, and then Batman and Two-Face briefly reminisce about the time when the villain was still just District Attorney Harvey Dent, and he was one of Batman's staunchest allies in his dawning war on crime.

Unfortunately, for a story so incredibly reliant on referencing Batman continuity--the Batman/Dent alliance was part of Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli's seminal 1987 "Year One" story arc, and at the heart of dozens of stories since, including Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale's 1996 Batman: The Long Halloween--it's awfully loose with that continuity. There's reference to Dent's attempt to prosecute Killer Croc, even though Dent became Two-Face during the first year of Batman's career, while Croc wasn't introduced until Jason Todd was Robin (pre-Flashpoint, Dick became Robin during Batman's third year). For another idea of just how far apart Two-Face and Croc's origins were, the former was introduced in 1942, while the latter wasn't introduced until 1983 (In Long Halloween, Loeb and Sale apparently wanted to use a sewer-dwelling, feral behemoth of a villain in several scenes, but they opted for Solomon Grundy, as Croc hadn't yet been introduced).

Also particularly egregious are two panels featuring Scarface. He only has 17 words of dialogue, but Venditti manages to fuck them up, apparently forgetting Scarface's signature speech impediment, always substituting a "g" sound for a "b" sound. So in his two-panel appearance, he commands him gang to fire on Batman with the words, "Clip the pigeon, boys!" instead of "Clip the pigeon, goys!"

The mistake is made all the more obvious by the fact that the story that follows it in the collection--and, this being a collection, "Table For Two" already saw print once with this easy-to-spot, easy-to-correct typo--by another story featuring Scarface and The Ventriloquist, written by the characters' co-creator and featuring Scarface's g-for-b speech impediment on like every single page.

That story is "Through The Keyhole," written by legendary long-time Batman writer Alan Grant and drawn by pencil artist Scott McDaniel (whose time drawing various Bat-characters overlapped a bit with Grant's time writing them) and inked by Rob Hunter. Grant's natural collaborator, the artist he did the bulk of his work on Batman stories with (including a great run on Detective), is sadly no longer around. Norm Breyfogle died way-too-young in 2018 (One of his 'Tec covers appears on the flaps of the dust jacket, though, and his co-creations Mr. Zsasz, Scarface and The Ventriloquist and Anarky all appear in the stories that fill the book).

As he often does, Grant returns to his own contributions to Batman's world. Villain-turned-vigilante Anarky takes a smartphone and uses it to stream his break-in of a mansion owned by one of the "public enemies" of the good citizens of Gotham. After some suspense as to the owner, it is eventually revealed to be Arnold Wesker, aka The Ventriloquist, who was able to afford and appoint such a huge and expensive home with his profits from dealing drugs (Batman's focus on drug crime is another Grant motif). While Anarky is streaming, Batman is breaking up a drug deal, and he follows Scarface and his gang back to their home just in time to stop them from executing Anarky.

There's a neat gag in here in which we see a closet full of the tiny suits Wesker dresses Scarface up in, and a typically clever ending, in which Batman lets Anarky off the hook with a brief lecture on how his heart is in the right place, but he's going about helping the world in the wrong way ("You've chosen a tough path, kid. Think long and hard on it"), and Anarky observes (to himself, and the readers), that Batman appears to be another rich capitalist and potential enemy of the common man: "Yeah. If I keep at it, I might get a car like yours one day."

It's a nice throwback of a story, seemingly set sometime in the recent-ish past--Anarky is in his original costume, Batman's wearing blue-black and gray, and has the yellow oval around the bat on his chest--but it's also kind of sad, as it's not drawn by Breyfogle. McDaniel's work is fine, of course, and it's nice DC included him in a Detective Comics retrospective project like this given how much he contributed to various Batman-related books for so long, but still.

After these two new stories and the reprinted contents of the issue as it was originally published comes what feels like 1,000 pages of variant covers.
Among the most compelling of the covers are the decades-specific ones; my favorite of these being the great Steve Rude's 1930s-style cover (inspired by Bob Kane's spooky 'Tec #31 cover), Bruce Timm's 1940-style "cover" cover of a Jerry Robinson cover and Michael Cho's 1950s cover (which was the one I ordered when I bought the trade version).

Among my other favorites were one-time Batman: Gotham Knights cover artist Brian Bolland's cover, which seemed to reference his old 1989 Secret Origins Special cover. Here he has Batman surrounded by seven villains, from classic villains like The Joker, Riddler and Penguin to a 1990s-style Harley Quinn and Professor Pyg.
Mike Mayhew similarly offers an impressive amount of villains in a single image, his painted fight scene having the Dark Knight swarmed by characters from the 1940s (Hugo Strange, The Joker, Two-Face, Scarecrow), the 1990s (Bane, Zsasz), and villains as recent as a Court of Owls Talon and The Batman Who Laughs.

There are a lot of covers featuring female characters in tight-fitting or skimpy clothing, as one might expect, but some of them are downright weird. Like, it's strange how often Harley appears in these 40 or so covers. In fact, she's solo on Jeehyung Lee's cover. There's one in which she, Catwoman and Poison Ivy appear with Batman, and three in which the trio appear sans Batman. In one of these, by Dawn McTeigue, they are drawn popping out of a cake.

The weirdest cover of all, however, is probably Jay Anacleto's, which features Batman Batman-spreading on a marble throne, surrounded by this trio, as well as Batgirl Barbara Gordon and Batwoman Kate Kane, all in their New 52 costumes. Catwoman and Harley are both posed particularly suggestively, but it's such an odd grouping of women from Batman comics, as it's neither all villains nor all allies, when there are certainly enough of each to fill the page with if either theme were adopted. Instead, it's just "Here's a bunch of sexy ladies from Batman comics, some posing sexily, around Batman's crotch (Batman's the only one not in his original New 52 redesign costume, by the way). The image is so weird, with the throne and the curtain background, that I wonder if it's referencing a piece of art I'm just not familiar with.

Anyway, that's this book. It's fun. As ridiculous as the number of variants on projects like this may be, it is always interesting to see which artists DC rounds up for them, and what those particular artists decide to draw, and then to compare and contrast them all.

Hunt For Wolverine: Adamantium Agenda (Marvel Entertainment) Leading up to the return of Wolverine in, um, The Return of Wolverine, Marvel published a handful of four-issue miniseries under the shared "Hunt For Wolverine" umbrella, the idea seemingly being that each of these would explore a different aspect of Wolverine's very big, very full career...without ever actually finding him, of course, because he couldn't very well actually return before Return (Which, um, I read before this and reviewed in last month's column, if you're interested).

This collects the only one of those miniseries I was particularly interested in, as it ties into Wolvie's time with Brian Michael Bendis' New Avengers, which I read quite a bit of (from the first issue until somewhere around Secret Invasion, I believe). It was also written by All-New Wolverine writer Tom Taylor, who has written some awfully good comics. Before one can get to the title comic, though, the collection includes two stories from something called Hunt For Wolverine #1; both of these are written by Charles Soule. (I do hope Marvel didn't reprint these pages in all of the Hunt For Wolverine collections, because that would have to be mightily annoying to anyone who purchased them all, and ended up paying for the same 40 pages repeatedly).

The first of Soule's stories is "Secrets and Lies," and it basically details how the X-Men handled Wolverine's burial arrangements. They left his kneeling body, encased in molten and cooled adamantium, on a pedestal in a remote cabin in Alberta, Canada, quietly putting out word where it was. The idea was, at least in part, to use it as bait for the types of folks who would want either a huge chunk of adamantium and/or the perhaps even more valuable access to Wolverine's DNA. The Reavers would like both, for example, and much of the story deals with the X-Men fighting The Reavers, eventually revealing that Kitty Pryde had used her powers to pull Wolvie's body out of the adamantium and have him buried in an unmarked grave. The grave loses its contents at some point, however, necessitating the hunt for Wolverine...or at least Wolverine's body. This story is drawn by David Marquez.

It's followed by a much shorter one, "Hunter's Pryde," drawn by pencil artist Paulo Siqueira and inker Walden Wong. This one directly sets up the various miniseries, as Kitty approaches various people to help her search for Wolverine. So she approaches Tony Stark  (Adamantium Agenda) and Daredevil (Weapon Lost), two rather odd choices, but her reasoning is that Wolverine "touched every corner of our world" and thus "we all need to be part of trying to find him." Meanwhile, word gets out, and Lady Deathstrike decides to look for Wolverine herself (Claws of a Killer), while Kitty convenes a handful of X-ladies to join her on a hunt (Mystery in Madripoor).

And that's the set-up.

Forty pages into the collection, The Adamanitum Agengda begins. Joining writer Taylor is pencil artist R.B. Silva and inker Adriano Di Benedetto. Something of a New Avengers reunion, it features Iron Man, Spider-Man, Luke Cage and Jessica Jones following a particularly promising lead: Some bad guys are auctioning off the genetic code of a superhero at a super-secret meeting aboard a submarine in international waters. Thinking there's a pretty good chance the code belongs to Wolverine, the old New Avengers infiltrate the meeting.

It turns out not to be Wolverine's genetic code, but someone else's that they all know. Mister Sinister and another Wolverine, Laura Kinney, also show up, and, while no real progress is made in the hunt for Wolverine, they do find and shutdown a improbably gigantic effort by Sinister to collect the DNA of every single person on the planet.

Doing so involves donning individual-ized Iron Man costumes, which is a fun idea, but man, Silva's designs leave a lot to be desired. Like, not only is everyone's Iron costume in their favorite colors and replicates aspects of their costumes, but, for some reason, Laura and Jessica's costumes have boobs, and Laura's even has long hair (?).
And what's up with Spider-Man's flying pose there...?
Despite the clumsiness of the art on that particular designs aspect of the book, and two random cliffhangers dropped in the last pages that may have significance to future Laura Kinney comics and/or future X-Men comics and the running-in-place nature of the overall story, Taylor does make it a rather worthwhile read.

There are some pretty solid gags throughout, like the fact that all of bidders at the auction must wear masks to disguise their identities, even though it takes a lot more than a mask to disguise, say, The Gryphon.

Taylor's script leaps back and forth between a "years ago" past, when Luke, Jessica, Wolverine and Spidey are faced with a particularly contrived trap, and the various heroes all make promises to Wolverine about what they would do in the event of his death. That's not necessarily important to the present day plot, although it does get the dead-ish Wolverine into the comic, it does explain this rather random grouping of heroes taking up eighty pages of a Wolverine-related comic and, finally, it allows us to see Taylor attempting a Bendis pastiche.

Marvel Action: Avengers: The New Danger (Book One) (IDW Publishing) This was my first exposure to IDW's "Marvel Action" comics (although I've since read the first collection of Marvel Action: Spider-Man), and while it will perhaps never not be weird to read a comic book starring Marvel Comics' comic book superheroes produced by a comic book publisher that is not Marvel, one can't really argue with the results. Frequent IDW creators Matthew K. Manning and Jon Sommariva have produced a fun, fast-paced all-ages Marvel superhero adventure that is every bit as good as the all-ages comics Marvel has been dabbling with off and on for some 15 years or so now.

I'm tempted to say it's even better than Marvel's official Avengers comic, but, well, that book has been pretty damn great lately, and so the real improvement of the Marvel Action Avengers over the Marvel Comics Universe's Avengers is, at this point, mainly just that the former are so new-reader friendly. If one's only real exposure to the team and the characters on it have come from Marvel Studios movies, that is still more than enough familiarity with them to read this book, a great starting point for the Avengers for anyone who can read.

The movies are the obvious inspiration for the series, as you can tell from the cover of this collection of the first three issues, which features the the team line-up circa the first film, only slightly redesigned (Hawkeye and Back Widow having the most extensive visual tweaking), even though The Hulk doesn't really appear within the pages of this trade. Instead, more recent popular addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe are featured: Black Panther and Captain Marvel (Like The Hulk, Ant-Man and The Wasp only make a single cameo appearance in a flashback panel, and appear on some of the series' covers, so one imagines they might play greater roles in the series in the future).

The story, entitled "The Iron Mechanic," opens with a rather Robert Downey Jr.-esque Tony Stark enjoying a fancy dinner with Pepper Potts when an explosion summons him into action. But before he can suit up, an undercover AIM agent slaps a doohickey onto the back of his neck, essentially hijacking Iron Man.

Pepper calls in Widow and Panther, and, when they are unable to stop the rogue Iron Man, Thor and The Captains join the hunt--after they're done dealing with The U-Foes and Madame Masque (If Manning chose to stick with the biggest stars of the movies for the heroes, there was no such attempt to do so with the villains, as these are among the adversaries that have yet to show up in any movies...although I guess a version of Madame Masque kinda sorta appeared in the second season of the late, great Agent Carter).

The AIM plot Manning has come up with is actually pretty clever, involving zapping Tony into unconsciousness and convincing him that he's not Tony Stark, but, rather, a loyal AIM agent (thus allowing them to circumvent any of the safeguards in the armor that would have prevented them from simply stealing it). They also give the suit a paint job, so now that it's yellow and black and, after a dramatic reveal built up to by a few shadowy and silhouetted appearances, Tony announces, "I'm not Tony Stark. And I'm not Iron Man. I'm The Advanced Iron Mechanic."
That's one of those semi-obvious things that it's actually kind of hard to imagine that no one has ever thought to do before, because, once you see it done it seems so perfect and so obvious. A brain-washed and AIM-ized Iron Man isn't AIM's only secret weapon though; they've also bring a brain-washed Fin Fang Foom to the fight, automatically making this my favorite Marvel comic of the year (that isn't Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, of course).

Manning juggles the cast well, so that even if this is a team story in which Iron Man is the main focus, everyone gets at least a scene to shine, and although the particular Avengers chosen seem to be present mainly because of their movie-buttressed high profiles (and their personalities are certainly indistinguishable from their movie versions), this is pretty clearly set in the--or a, I suppose--Marvel Comics Universe, as a flashback to the original, 1963 line-up reveals, and the deeper, richer field of characters and organizations, from the uniformed, and helicarrier-operating version of SHIELD to the U-Foes and the villain working with Masque revealed in the last panel.

Sommariva's artwork is perfect for the characters. While he captures aspects of their visuals from the films, particularly in Stark's resemblance to the RDJ's Cinematic Universe Stark (and his costuming) and the busier, more armor-like (and Avengers-branded) costumes, the characters also all have more dynamic designs that are perfectly utilized in the many action scenes. The style might seem cartoony by the standards of the modern Marvel comics--certainly the millennial comics that inspired the first phase or two of movies--but it's really no more expressive and stylized than the work of, say, Chris Bachalo or Ed McGuinness.

I liked it a lot--a lot more than I expected to, honestly, given my rather limited exposure to Sommariva's previous art--and I particularly liked his flat-faced, more human-than-usual-looking Foom.
Given the price of the single issues, I can't imagine reading Marvel Action: Avengers serially, but at $9.99, these digest-sized, 60ish-page trades are a pretty good way to get high-quality Marvel comics, particularly for any audience reluctant to buy into the Marvel Entertainment's Avengers. I mean, those comics are really quite good and all, but it's sort of...relaxing not to have to know what a "War of The Realms" is or wonder what's going on with Thor's golden arm or why everyone was so pissed at Carol a few crossovers ago, or Captain America in the previous crossover, you know...?

Most of the variant covers included in the little gallery at the back are just group shots of the Avengers in action, but there's a really nice image of Carol that, when my eyes first landed upon it, seemed like one of the better images of Carol I'd seen before...and then I noticed that it was credited to Sophie Campbell, which explained why I liked it so much.

Snow White with the Red Hair Vol. 1 (Viz Media) Given that Snow White's black hair is traditionally one of her distinguishing features--along with that snow white skin after which she was named, of course--the title of Sorata Akiduki's new manga series was enough to intrigue me. It's interesting because the first chapter--the first 40 pages or so--is a fairly complete story unto itself, and one that includes the various elements that seem to have been inspired by the Snow White story. That is, there's a young girl endangered by her own beauty, an evil royal who means to harm our heroine, a flight into the woods, the discovery of unexpected allies there, a prince and a poison apple. And that's about it really. There are zero dwarves, and no witches. Akiduki isn't adapting or retelling Snow White so much as inspired by it.

Our heroine is Shirayuki, a simple peasant girl with "apple-red" hair (the manga is, of course, black-and-white, although her hair's redness on the cover doesn't exactly suggest apples). The young prince of her kingdom has heard of her beauty and unusual hair, and wants to add her to his harem. In response, she cuts off her hair and runs away, deep into the woods beyond her home kingdom and far from the main roads, just in case the prince decides to pursue her.

There she meets a mysterious trio of good looking young people, one of whom she shares an almost instantaneous bond with, and she uses her skills with poultices to help heal a wound of his. Eventually, the prince's agents track her down, and manages to poison her new friend, promising an antidote in exchange for her agreement to submit to him as his concubine. Though she's ready to sacrifice herself, things don't come to that, and her friend reveals himself as Prince Zen, the prince of the neighboring kingdom (He and his two friends/bodyguards had fled into to woods to get away from the palace for a bit when they met Shirayuki).

That's the first chapter, and, as I said, it stands alone quite well as a romantic adventure.

Though Shirayuki moves to Zen's kingdom, safe forever from the prince in her home kingdom, she wants to earn a place in Zen's palace and life. So while they remain friends, she begins to study to be the court herbalist. By this point, the second chapter, the associations with Snow White more or less cease, and are gradually replaced by a gentle romance between the pair, who never really appear to be more than very good and very devoted friends--they don't even share a kiss--although their feelings for one another aren't complicated or hidden either, so that it doesn't seem like Akiduki is setting up the sort of will-they, won't-they tension that has powered so many a manga series.

Once in the new kingdom, conflicts include a snobbish royal, a young, good-looking bandit who captures her for ransom and a challenging test that involves some fast-paced, all-nighter gardening. This being a shojo comic, each chapter includes a panel in which the author talks directly to the reader, and in the second chapter Akiduki reveals that the book was originally conceived as a one-shot--which explains why those first 40 pages read like a novella more than a pilot episode. My curiosity about the title and premise now sated, I'm not entirely sure I'll want to follow Shirayuki and Zen's future adventures, but this is certainly a well-made comic that shouldn't have any trouble at all finding an appreciative audience.

Another, earlier and unrelated one-shot comic by Akiduki is included here. It's a more straightforward adolescent summer romance about a color-blind boy called "Colorful Seasons of August."


Archie: 1941 (Archie Comics) I don't think the writing team of Mark Waid and Brian Augustyn ever quite manage to ever transcend the essential gimmick of this particular series, which reimagines Archie Andrews and company as realistic characters in a realistic comics narrative beginning during the year of Archie's first appearance in comics. But it's an interesting experiment nonetheless. It's certainly a great showcase for artist Peter Krause's considerable skills. Even if the script never entirely gets beyond the "What if...?"-like nature of a premise (although Archie's meta-ennui at the outset is pretty compelling), it's definitely interesting to see how Krause transforms the one-time gag strip stars into serious, dramatic characters while keeping them in their initial time period setting, complete with all its trappings.

The Breakaways (First Second) I found this anti-sports sports comic from Cathy G. Johnson to be enormously appealing. I thought it quite clearly captured the incredibly dubious reasons children sometimes get involved in sports (I played one season of junior high football and signed up for a summer golf program, two sports I was both terrible at and had no real interest in, for reasons similar to those that our young heroine Faith signs up for soccer) as well as making some very honest and compelling observations I recognized from my own life (the earth-stopping shock of seeing a girl's bra strap, for example).

Johnson also does a great job of showing how horrible middle school students are to one another, while also detailing rationales--or at least reasons--to feel sorry for some of the girls that might not excuse all of their bad behavior, but does help explain it.

I thought the climax was the best climax to any sports narrative I've ever seen (I spoil it in my GC4K review, just FYI), but I was a little surprised that a friend of mine who I thought would love this--being a fan of women's sports narratives and the character dynamics of Lumberjanes, which this seems to fit with in a if-you-like-Lumberjanes-you-might-like-Breakways kinda way--didn't care for it. She said it was her own experience with sports that made this hard to relate to, as she found the climax antithetical. Different strokes, maybe...?

Oh, and if you're worried that I never found a sport of my own, don't. In high school, I ran cross country in the fall and track in the spring, and was pretty okay at both--actually pretty damn good at one event in particular in the latter, if I may brag about my high school accomplishments, which I am now of the age where that is a thing one does, I guess. Both featured all of the benefits of being part of a team, without really having quite as much teamwork as other least, not while you're engaged in the competition aspect.

After high school, I got into skateboarding a bit, and that is a good, healthy-ish activity one can do in and around strip malls and parking lots after dark that doesn't involve smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol or doing drugs.

So as this month's post draws to an end, I am going to take this tangent to offer some advice to any young people in the reading audience.

First, what are you doing reading this blog? Get out of here. There are swear words here. And shouldn't you be outside, enjoying the weather? Or reading a book, or doing something more productive? You kids with your screens!

Second, you should try a bunch of sports in school until you find one you like. Even if you suck at it, even if your team sucks, it is good for your physical, mental and social health to participate in a sport of some kind, even if it just involves running around by yourself or a friend or two or three, or just  rolling around on a skateboard in a church parking lot at night. It's super-fun, and you should do it while your bones are still strong. Among my many regrets in life is that I never learned to properly do a kick-flip, and now I am 42 and a skateboard just looks like a trip to urgent care waiting to happen.

What was I talking about...?

Oh! The Breakaways is good. Stay in school. Get some fresh air. Tobacco is whacko.


J. Bencomo said...

I was really hoping I'd see your review on Dark Horse's Mickey Mouse's Dracula in this batch. I thought it was much better than the takes on Hamlet and Don Quixote, even if several of the roles, like the two of Clarabelle/Lucy's suitors who weren't Horace, seemed to be given to OCs, or at least I didn't recognize them as previously existing Disney characters. I think Dracula was supposed to be the Phantom Blot, though, since that's what he looks like when he's (rarely) unmasked in Italian Mouse comics.

Caleb said...

I haven't read it yet, but I intend to! Eventually!

I recently switched from ordering comics online to pre-ordering them at a brick-and-mortar store again, so I can't remember what books I already ordered and am still expecting to receive in the mail vs. those I should pic up off the shelf.