—Part eight!—of the never-ending "Justice/Doom War" arc, writer Scott Snyder is rejoined by on-again, off-again "regular" Justice League artist Jorge Jimenez. I think it was probably a mistake for Snyder and company to have presented the final battle between Luthor and his army of
Nevertheless, Jimenez does a pretty fine job on the first few pages, with pages two and three being filled with a two-page splash of Luthor's army running toward the reader, while an airborne Legion of Doom headquarters with huge, spidery, blade-like projections and blazing guns fills the sky behind them, and then pages four and five being filled with a two-page splash of whichever heroes from the JSA, Justice Legion-A and the DCU Jimenez felt like drawing—I counted about 35 recognizably distinct ones, while the background is full of blobs of heroes. Original Hourman Rex Tyler can't fly, Miralco or no, but otherwise it's a pretty great image.
In fact, Guy Gardner's charging-into-battle face is probably the single best part of the issue, surpassing even Batman and Jarro's Geoff Johns-ian stupid/awesome retort to Luthor telling them, "Please tell me you're smart enough to surrender."
This issue sure felt like the penultimate one of the arc, but given that it's gone on so long already, I fear Snyder may actually draw it out to hit 12 parts.
This is, obviously, not that.
Rather it's your now standard $10, 80-page giant-with-a-spine anthology built around a seasonal theme. Here, that theme is, obviously, villains, and how some of them spend their New Year's Eve, or at least holidays that aren't too far away from NYE on the calendar. . Unlike some of the past December-published specials, this one doesn't have a framing device, but is instead just 10 standalone stories, mostly featuring the expected characters (The Joker, Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, Black Adam) and a few interesting choices (Chronos, Toyman, Prankster), and mostly by the usual suspects, with relatively few surprises on any of the creative teams.
Since this post is already going to be a million words long and several months late, we might as well take the one at a time. So, what lies behind the cover by Jim Cheung and Tomeu Morey, featuring 10 villains, only three of whom actually appear in any of the stories? (I guess The Batman Who Laughs is a bigger draw than The Prankster).
The Joker in "The Amateur" by Gabriel Hardman and Corrina Bechko, Matt Hollingsworth and Steve WandsHardman both draws and co-writes this short Joker Story with Bechko, and it features a fairly basic premise we've seen before, perhaps because of The Joker's traditional association as a comedian of a criminal lends itself to such a riff: Someone is stealing his act (Freshest in my mind was 1990's Batman #450, as a Dollar Comics reprint of it was recently solicited for April; there's also that 1992 episode of Batman: The Animated Series, "The Joker's Wild," wherein a casino magnate builds a Joker-themed casino, drawing the mad villain's ire).
Here the plagiarist is just some young punk with a smart phone who looks, the Joker surmises, like he might be named "Steve"; with a little make-up and non-toxic gas, "Steve" poses as a victim of a Joker venom gas attack...right in the middle of Gotham City's downtown during its New York City-like NYE celebration. Panic ensues and the Joker is not amused by having his own NYE crime upstaged.
"Steve" is both ballsy and mouthy, telling The Joker off when confronted, and even, briefly, seemingly checkmating The Clown Prince of Crime. This gets to what I think is the point of the story, though, which not only says something about intergenerational appropriation (perhaps ironic, coming as it does in a DC comic published 79 years after The Joker's debut) and also about the evolution of terrorism, and how easy it is to do so much more of it with so much less these days, thanks to things like technology, mass media and people being primed by their bogeymen.
"Steve" gets his comeuppance, Joker tries to get his credit and Batman gets the villain.
Batman's only in three panels, which is kind of too bad, if only because I'd like to see more of Hardman's Batman. One of the two good images of him we get, in profile piloting the Batmobile with Joker strapped next to him, suggests Brian Bolland's design to me. As for The Joker himself, Hardman's version seems like a pretty classic one, a more-or-less realistic human being with some alterations. Hardman's style is so realistic, that I'd really like to see him draw a longer Batman story somewhere soon, as his Batman and Joker stand out as more cartoonish characters alongside the realistic people, objects and settings.
He also does great gargoyles.
Toyman in "Slaybells Ring" by Kenny Porter, Ramon Villalobos, Tamra Bonvillain and Tom NapolitanoThis was, somewhat surprisingly to myself, probably my all-around favorite story in the collection, and I'm not even particularly fond of the rather fluid Toyman character (although killer toys are a great villain gimmick), nor do I recall writer Kenny Porter's name from anything else.
Admittedly, much of that is due to the amazing work of Ramon Villalobos, who is a pretty great artist whose work I'd previously noticed in Secret Wars: E is For Extinction and Border Town, the latter a promising-looking Vertigo title that happened to have been written by a person whose alleged personal conduct made the book rather radioactive (I read the first issue, decided to wait for the trade, and then the news came out that made me not want to read it). What made Villalobos so perfect for that Morrison/Quitely-era X-Men homage book during Secret Wars is also what helps make this short story so interesting: He does a great Frank Quitely impression. Therefore, this reads a bit like a story set in the same comics milieu as All-Star Superman, although unlike Quitely, who there favored minimalist panel-design and almost non-existent backgrounds, Villalobos' panels are packed with details. I just went back for a re-read, and noticed new details in the background, like the "Kord" logo design on one of the shops in Metropolis.
It's the day of the annual Metropolis holiday parade, and Lois Lane and Clark Kent, here looking just like the disheveled lummox Quitely drew him as in All-Star, making clear that it was perfectly reasonable not to suspect that the big oaf and Superman were one and the same, are waiting in line outside of an electronics store. That's when Toyman enters via explosion, accompanied by giant robot versions of his "new line of X-Treme Justice League Figures."
"The toys are ready to play, my dudes!" the one that looks like Green Lantern Kyle Rayner shouts, while one resembling the "electric" Superman of 1998 chimes in, "Who's ready to exterminate the Christmas blues?!"
If they look a bit familiar, they should. They are basically the 1996-1998 Kenner Total Justice/JLA toy line come to life (I had Aquaman and Plastic Man). If that's not entirely clear, this panel in which Toyman shows off their packaging, in which the "Toyman Justice" logo echoes the "Total Justice" logo and we see the Green Arrow Connor Hawke and Aquaman toys, should dispel any doubt.
Toyman's plan is actually a little vague and crazy, but he is apparently going to destroy electronic devices—One by one? With just the three giant robots?—in an attempt to turn children away from their phones and tablets and screens, so they can start playing with good old-fashioned toys again (Here, old-fashioned meaning the late '90s; God, I feel old. How old? Like Mumm-Ra before he transforms. Old enough to have made a Thundercats reference). It's a neat point, because Porter has Clark making a similar one earlier in the story, about kids today and their phones.
The kids themselves stand up for the honor of screens, though, helping distract Toyman and save Superman so he can destroy the robots, proving the utility of smart phones in the process. Ultimately, the kids prove that they do still know how to play outside in the snow and that their brains haven't turned to mush, and while that may be a bit over-hopeful on Porter's part, it's a nice conclusion to a short story, followed by an actually kinda touching ending.
Just out of curiosity, does anyone know what Toyman's deal is, post-Flashpoint/New 52...? I saw the Hiro version show up somewhere closer to the reboot, but I've lost track of most of the villains who aren't Lex Luthor or The Joker. I'm just wondering if this story fits into the current "canon" or not. This seems to be the original iteration of The Toyman, or at least a version awfully close to him.
Sinestro in "Bright and Terrible" by Phillip Kennedy Johnson, Sumit Kumar, Romulo Fajardo Jr and Clayton CowlesI didn't much care for this one for the same reason a lot of the Green Lantern corner of DC Comics doesn't really grab me: It was outer space-y enough that I couldn't really find much in the way of a purchase. The "holiday" in this one is a made up outer space one, wherein the natives of the planet Tchaalosh celebrate Thuulamon, their "sky-savior'", with a big wicker man in a Green Lantern uniform, some bonfires and some cash sacrifices to Thuulamon's greedy high-priest (There's no space Nicolas Cage screaming about bees or being set ablaze, sadly).
Sinestro is cruising through outer space when he goes to check on the planet, which he once defended from invasion when he was still a Green Lantern and it was in his sector. He talks to a holographic projection of his Legion of Doom boss Lex Luthor throughout, basically to have someone to talk to (for the purposes of moving the story along). It turns out that he is the Thuulamon being celebrated, and he doesn't like the way that the priest used his name and image and semi-twisted what he was taught in order to fleece his people. So Sinestro uses his ultra-violet spectrum powers to appear to them, restate his fascist philosophy of justice through violence against one's enemies and then fly off.
It's an pretty decent quick character sketch of Sinestro, but not much of a holiday story—it's snowing on the planet, I guess...?-—and it seems like it could have appeared just about anywhere.
Pretty nice art by Kumar.
Poison Ivy in "Auld Lang Ivy" by Jim Krieg, Aneke, Hi-Fi and Wes Abbot
Okay, well, actually this particular bar is called The C-List, and its mostly full of Batman villains who would be lucky to even be considered C-List. The Penguin is a glaring exception among the clientele, which features unnamed oddballs like Zebraman, Cluemaster, original-look Ten-Eyed Man, Scorpiana (in her weird, Ian Bertram design from Batman Eternal) and The Eraser (here having a pink-skinned head which is sectioned off into hair at its top, not unlike Bart Simpson's head/hair relationship; he also appears in this form in the Detective Comics annual that was collected in The Arkham Knight, discussed below).
Ivy is there because it is New Year's Eve, and she has made a resolution to try to be more empathetic to her fellow human beings and, perhaps because she too is a villain, these are who she considers her fellow human beings. After spending some evening mingling and picking up on what a few of them might like to change about themselves—The Penguin, for example, would like to quit smoking, and is depicted vaping which is...actually kinda brilliant. Has no one shown The Penguin vaping before?
At the stroke of midnight, she uses her pheromone powers to help push him to break nicotine's hold on him, help Orca eat healthier (Yeah, Orca's in this too; one more example that the Orca renaissance is still ongoing) and accountant-to-serial killers The Abacus to lose his fear of women.
That last one backfires on Poison Ivy, however, and so she has to kill him.
Ares in "Winter's Root" by Dan Watters, Aessandro Vitti, Adriano Lucas and Gabriela DownieI'm not much of a fan of Ares as a Wonder Woman villain, and the stories featuring that hero I tend to find the least interesting are those that too wholeheartedly embrace her as a part of Greek mythology, wherein DC approaches her and her story in the way that Marvel approaches Thor and his story in relation to Norse mythology, only DC hasn't run their version of Greek mythology through the prism of Jack Kirby's brain, the way that Marvel's original Thor comics were.
As much a Wonder Woman story as an Ares one, this one is set at "Winter Solstice", which I guess is what Wonder Woman celebrates in December instead of the Golden Age feast of Diana's Day. For Ares, the true holiday is "Poseidonia." They get in a fight at the base of a tree, Diana entangling him in her lasso to pull exposition out of him while they do so, and he reveals the story of a mortal lover of his, a curse, and why he wants to fight Wondy at the base of that particular tree.
Watters' story is fine, but I had trouble parsing Vitti's artwork, and either I'm out of touch with Wonder Woman's current abilities, or she appears to pull a sword out of thin air at one point after Ares goads her into using her sword for a few panels, and when it first appears it is in a very confusing panel I paused on for some time, and then went back and reread later after later pages sort of explained what happened.
That's not how comics are supposed to work.
Black Adam in "A Coal In My Stocking" by Ram V., Anthony Spay, Jon Sibal, Jeromy Cox and ALW's Troy PeteriThere's a good idea in here, although it doesn't seem to be executed properly, and the in medias res opening didn't really help much (I don't think eight-page stories should require too much jumping back and forth in time, a problem this story shares with the Ares one, although it is more pronounced here).
Black Adam, amusingly shown wearing a fur-trimmed cape for winter wear, arrives at the North Pole, magically opens up a wall of ice and picks a fight with the blue-furred yeti-like creatures (a few of whom wear tiaras) and the eyeless, green-skinned, pointy-eared, magic-wielding, robed humanoids who speak in "Byzantine Tongues" he finds waiting for him there.
Then we flashback to Kahndaq, the fictional Middle Eastern country where I guess Black Adam is once again king (V. seems to take for granted that readers will know Adam's deal, despite the last couple of reboots garbling the Shazam Family of characters). He talks to a sad little girl from a New York orphanage, who tries to explain the concept of Santa Claus to him, and how important Santa Claus is to her Christmas.
Then we flash forward to the present, where Adam walks through a doorway to "Ancient Myra," a potential minefield of exotica, which looks like a generic Middle Eastern country in a Western comic book, save for the fact that the people are all green and have pointy ears...these ones do have eyeballs in their eye-sockets, though. There Adam confronts Ni'Klaus of Myra, a white-bearded wizard in a red robe (who Adam at first addresses as The Wizard, temporarily confusing me as to whether or not this was meant to be Shazam himself). Then there's another jump back to Kahndag, then back to Myra.
The basic idea is that this Santa Claus apparently reminds Adam enough of a wizard named Ni'Klaus of Myra he happens to know that he goes to beat him up and show him where Khandaq is on a map to make sure he brings presents to the children of his country. This feels like the first draft of a pretty funny story, in need of another draft or two.
Now, Santa Claus is, of course, based in part on Saint Nicholas, an early Christian bishop of the city of Myra, and giving him wizard-like powers is no real stretch, given how common various super-powers are among the Catholic saints. I'm not clear why his name is given an almost Martian-like spelling, though, and apparently ancient Myra is now magically hidden in the North Pole for...some...reason...? And the green-skinned, pointy-eared people of Myra are apparently meant to evoke Santa's elves, but, I'm not sure why...? Nor am I sure what the yetis are all about.
Given how short the story is, too much time seems to have been wasted on Santa Claus-ing details (the elves, the North Pole) and on Adam fighting Ni'Klaus' guards, time that could have been better spent smoothing out the Santa Claus/Saint Nicholas/Ni'Klaus connections, and which choices were important vs which were more nonsensical.
It's a fun and ambitious attempt, though.
Spay's pencil art is decent but unremarkable, reminding me a bit of JLA-era Howard Porter. Where I think it falls down is in the choices regarding illustrating elements of V.'s script that don't quite make sense to me.
Speaking of, I suppose it's possible that Ni'Klaus is a pre-extant DCU character introduced in the pages of Shazam; I've been trade-waiting that series, and DC seems to be in no hurry to collect it. If so, and there's a story explaining Ni'Klaus and his weird kingdom of green people in the modern Arctic, please feel free to ignore my criticisms. If that's the case, maybe this should have just included a not saying "Make sure you've read Shazam #2 before this story"...
Calendar Man in "New Year, New You" by Christos Gage, Karl Mostert, Luis Guerrero and Travis LanhamAnd now we get to this issue's other best story. I've been fascinated by Calendar Man since I first encountered him in Alan Grant, Tim Sale and company's "The Misfits" in the first year of Batman: Shadow of The Bat, although most of the Calendar Man stories I've read haven't been as fun as that one (A rare exception was 2010's Batman: The Brave and The Bold #12, by Landry Q. Walker and Eric Jones). I may be the only one anxiously awaiting a Batman Arkham: Calendar Man collection, in part to see if any of his older stories were as fun as the Misfits and in part because I missed and have yet been able to track down 2000's Batman 80-Page Giant #3, which would presumably make the cut.
Anyway, a Calendar Man story! The one villain who is perfect for any and all of DC's seasonal specials! Hooray!
Sadly, this story is set entirely within Arkham Asylum, so we don't get to see him in his cool costume. The particular design that artist Karl Mostert settles on features the tattooed bald head that Sale designed for the character during his Hannibal Lecter-like appearance in The Long Halloween, but he has neither the chubby build of that version, nor the hulking physique of the child-beating New 52 version introduced in 2014's (no good) Detective Comics Annual #4 (I hope that one doesn't make it into a Batman Arkham: Calendar Man trade paperback collection).
Rather, he looks a lot like one might imagine the original Calendar man might look under his costume, and he seems to be his older self, one of Batman's many clever (but just not clever enough) theme villains, albeit a bit more savage than one might have otherwise expected.
This one is, obviously, another NYE-themed story. The new head of Arkham Asylum, Dr. Teisch, is hosting a New Year's Eve party of sorts for the inmates, following up on Calendar Man's suggestion that he take advantage of the ritual to help his ritual-obsessed charges try to change their ways, in part by going around the room and having a few of them announce what they are working on.
Like the Poison Ivy story, this one is also a good place for minor Batman villains, as, in addition to to the title character, Calendar Man has a makeshift gang consisting of Killer Croc, Firefly and Amygdala, each of whom get a couple of panels of attention, as we see how Teisch attempts to heal them and how Calendar Man manipulates them.
He pretty perfectly orchestrates a riot, and is on his way out the door, when in bounds Batman, spouting off holiday trivia through gritted teeth: "You know the New Year's custom of first footing? It's good luck if he first to cross the threshold is a tall, dark man... ...bearing gifts." The first gift is, unsurprisingly, a punch in the face, and the other gifts are equally unpleasant.
Gage crafts a pretty perfect story about a gimmick villain trying and failing to change, the rub here being that Calendar Man makes a show of abandoning his usual calendar and holiday obsessions to orchestrate a perfect escape, only to unconsciously give himself a way to Batman, who gets an incredibly strong three-page depiction.
Gage does a great job on the characters, showing a Grant-like facility to working in odd trivia for basically throwaway scenes that demonstrate how smart the characters are (like in Batman's first footing line, and an earlier scene where in Day explains how a brutal murder he committed was improbably solved by Batman).
I'm not familiar with Mostert's work, but this is the second story in the collection in which a strong Quitely influence is evident. His characters pose and move across the panels in much the same way that Quitely's do, and his Batman looks an awful lot like the one that appeared in Batman and Robin.
Like Villalobos, Mostert is an artist whose work I want to see more of.
Chronos in "Father Christmas" by David Wielgosz, Cian Tormey, Dave McCaig and Andworld DesignI'm not usually a fan of time travel stories, but this one by writer David Wielgosz and artist Cian Tormey is a pretty strong one. The time-themed villain, shown here in a particularly terrible costume from I know not where (Note: Yes, I love his original costume; if you've managed to keep track of him and know where this look comes from, please let me know), is making attempt #64 to change his crappy father's life on Christmas Eve, when he himself was still just a child, essentially trying to force his dad into being a good father and, perhaps, changing himself in the process.
None of the strategies seem to work, no matter how direct he is, and no matter how much progress he seems to make, his father inevitably returns to form. Ultimately concluding there's nothing he can do, despite his ability to control time and and try over and over again, Chronos decides that his fate is written and, ultimately, his father's life mattered so little in the grand scheme of things after he impregnated his mom that there's no reason not to just give up on trying to change him, and killing him off.
It's obviously a kinda dark and depressing story, even if it's ultimately one about loving oneself, but it works well, and given that Chronos isn't exactly a traditionally dark and depressing character, this isn't exactly a derivative or predictable story.
The art's nice, and the parts of it I didn't care for—Chronos' costume, Captain Carrot's costume—weren't really up to Tormey.
The Prankster in "...And a Prankster New Year!" by Kurt Busiek, Dale Eaglesham, Mike Atiyeh and Todd KleinThis seems like a surprisingly high-profile creative team for a special like this, which more often than not features up-and-comers or creators not traditionally associated with DC or big DC books. It's also a pretty good one. The classic Superman villain has reinvented himself as distraction-maker-for-hire, tying up superheroes with elaborate "pranks" for enough time for their various archenemies to pull off their own schemes. No longer a solo act, The Prankster now has a whole team of apprentice pranksters, each a beautiful woman wearing a uniform that I guess I'd describe as...sexy theater usher? Or maybe sassy bellhop...?
After a brief run-through of recent successes, which allows Dale Eaglesham to draw Superman, Green Lantern John Stewart, The Flash and Wonder Woman for a panel apiece (and gets Angle Man and Goldface name-dropped), Team Prankster's secret lair is suddenly stormed by a group of unexpected Metropolis heroes: Superman, Supergirl, The Guardian (the Jake Jordan "Manhattan Guardian" version) and...a transformed Jimmy Olsen...?
This isn't what it seems, of course.
As should be expected by a writer of Busiek's experience and caliber, it's a super-tightly scripted character portrait, one that simultaneously reinvents the character while adhering to his essential nature, and making a rather silly-seeming, old-school villain that some cynical readers might have expected Superman to outgrow by this point seem like a villain with a place in his rogue's gallery.
I haven't seen Eaglesham's art in a long time, so it was fun to see his work again, too. I guess this is the other other best story, after the Toyman and Calendar Man ones.
Harley Quinn in "Little Christmas Tree" by Vita Ayala, Elena Casagrande, Jordie Bellaire and Dave SharpeThis Harley Quinn/Renee Montoya story would seem a little more unusual if the two Gotham Girls co-stars weren't currently appearing in the Birds of Prey film, which may have inspired writer Vita Ayala to pair the two for a Christmas story.
After Montoya does Harley a solid by staying overtime to process her so she doesn't have to sit in a Gotham jail over the holidays—for some crime she is apparently innocent of—Harley decides to force merriment on the grumpy Montoya. A series of failed attempts eventually climaxes in a rooftop fire for s'mores, free psychiatric advice and girl-bonding time, and non-alcoholic sparkling cider in champagne flutes.
I tend to find the Harley Quinn character super-irritating, but having her share scenes with a particularly blue Montoya is a pretty good idea, given the sharp contrast between them. Montoya is here still moping over the loss of her girlfriend, Batwoman (Who has a TV show, but no comic right now...? That's kinda weird, right? I don't think I know of anywhere that Batwoman is even appearing in DC Comics now, outside a single Giant she shared with Supergirl recently).
Casagrande's art is pretty great, and it's no real surprise that she'll be getting her own pretty high-profile series soon, even though it's coming from Marvel and not DC.
I didn't personally care for Sharpe's lettering though, which depicts the sorts of emphasis words that often appear in italics and bold in comics in explosively bigger, colored fonts, mostly red and blue. I suppose it's used to distinguish Harley's way of speaking from that of "normal" people, and this probably isn't the only place it's been done, but it wasn't to my taste.
I bought and read this issue, likeNovember's #99, in preparation for that new direction, as I am a big fan of cartoonist Sophie Campbell and, visually at least (having not read much of her writing of them yet), her take on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, who are, of course, among my favorite comic book characters (Particularly their original, Mirage Studios iterations).
I was still somewhat lost on the specifics and many of the characters playing a role in this 42-page conclusion, but that's certainly more my fault than the creators, given how I walked out of this particular movie, like, one-sixth of the way in and then just came back for the last few minutes or so.
Everyone who was fighting in issue #99 is still here fighting, with the major development being the resurrection of the dead Sheredder that opens a gate to hell and summons a gigantic red dragon that appears to be a fusion of Western and Eastern dragon designs. The good guys ultimately win, with Oruoku Saki, Hamayato Yoshi and Tang Shen, the love triangle at the center of the turtles' origins across several iterations, all finding peace. The cost? The life of Master Splinter, who was here the reincarnation of Yoshi in a mutant rat-man body.
Splinter has died before in TMNT comics, having died in the Peter Laird-driven fourth volume, and been presumed dead by the turtles several other times, but this is here a pretty big deal, and a nice, sharp break with what has happened before, giving Campbell particularly fertile ground to start here run on.
I have to confess that the part of the book I was most excited about was the full-page "Next Month" add for #101, featuring Campbell's drawing of all five ninja turtles, the original four plus the new, female Jennika, shell-to-shell in a tight circle, their various ninja weapons raised.
Well, I think that was the part I was most excited about. There's also an ad reading Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Last Ronin, with four names below it: Kevin Eastman, Peter Laird, Tom Waltz and Andy Kuhn. That suggests Eastman and Laird reuniting for a TMNT comic, which is about the most exciting comics news you could tell me, although the premise of another writer and another artist in the mix makes me wonder if Eastman and Laird's contributions will be limited to co-plotting or co-writing a story with Waltz, and, perhaps, some cover art.
I hope they are drawing more, as the Turtles never quite look like the real Turtles to me when they are drawn by people other than Eastman and Laird. Even their individual Turtles, drawn with other Mirage Studio collaborators, never look quite as "right" as those that Eastman and Laird used to draw together, when they would pass pages back and forth, so that they both seem to have touched every panel repeatedly, creating an alchemical style that is hard to find in American assembly-line produced comics.
—Man-Wolf In Space #1 (Marvel Entertainment) That's the official title of this publication, at least according tot he fine-print on the first page. I guess the "In Space" is needed to differentiate it from True Believers: Annihilation—Man-Wolf...? Or maybe Marvel thinks there's a chance they will do other True Believers: Annihilation—Man-Wolf comics in which the sci-fi space werewolf who is also a sword-wielding extra-dimensional fantasyland god who is also also Daily Bugle Editor-in-Chief J. Jonah Jameson's son will appear in other settings, like In The Big Apple or In Cloud Cuckooland or On Campus or 20,000 Leagues Below The Sea...?
I don't know, but I was pretty pscyhced to get this comic, for the obvious reasons. I mean, just look at the cover. And then, I was more psyched still to see George Perez's name listed alongside that of Frank Giacoia in the credits page. I mean, I came for the craziness, but I'm happy to see that it's going to have some fine 1972 George Perez art attached.
The story of John Jameson, astronaut-turned-werewolf, is obviously very much in progress at the start of this story, which was written by David Kraft and apparently originally appeared in Marvel Premiere. I don't know precisely what happened before this point, other than what the narration boxes tell us—that Jameson found a symbiotic jewel on the moon that turns him into a wolfman when he's exposed to lunar radiation, and that he has just crash-landed a spacecraft on the surface of the moon—but I know where I can find out, as there's an ad for Man-Wolf: The Complete Collection on the second-to-last page of this comic, which I have just gone and ordered on Amazon between starting and finishing this sentence.
As for what happens in this issue, Jameson flees his downed spacecraft, which I am assuming he crashed on account of the fact that he turned into a mindless werewolf while flying it, and then he went running around the moon, protected from exposure by the magic glowing "weirdstone" that is apparently embedded in his throat. He enters a cave where he finds a temple filled with scantily clad white people who are dressed like they might have wandered in from the pages of one of Marvel's Conan or Thor comics of the day. That, and he now finds that he has his own mind back again, despite the fact that he is still in wolf form. Oh, and also, he can talk, although the way it's lettered it appears to be some sort of psychic talking (In maybe the oddest touch of the book is that Man-Wolf's face never un-snarls; his mouth is always wide open, so that it looks like he's wearing a wolf-mask rather than that he's actually a real werewolf.)
These people convince Man-Wolf that he's now a reincarnation of the Stargod from their world, and he's meant to lead them into battle against a cruel overlord. As soon as they offer him a cool sword, he agrees. This is page four. (Page four!).
They give him some new armor and weapons, and leave the cave to find themselves on a flying mountain. They climb atop some weird red lizard pegasuses with horns in their heads, and fly into battle against skull-headed warriors mounted atop skull-faced horses with paws, exposed spines terminating in long bony tales and big, green dragonfly wings. This leads to a senses-shattering two-page spread that looks like the exact midway point between 1970s fantasy van art and Renaissance cathedral ceiling art, a spread that is well worth the $1 and that I wouldn't mind seeing painted on the ceiling of my bedroom.
MAN-WOLF IS OUT FOR STINKING BLOOD!" The "next" box promises "The final, fatal conclusion of the Man-Wolf Saga!" The conclusion! This whole story was only 17 pages long, and it's almost over!
I'm not sure how on earth Jameson/Man-Wolf/Stargod will tie into the Annihilation mini-event Marvel is cooking up, but having him in it certainly piques my interest.
Hard to believe that Sony went ahead and greenlit a Morbius, The Living Vampire feature film when they were sitting on this bonkers IP, isn't it...?
—The Valley of The Worm (Marvel Entertainment) Marvel apparently decided to publish this rather laboriously titled $1 reprint of a story from 1972's Supernatural Thrillers #3 because the weird Conan: Serpent War crossover between some lesser (lesser than Conan, that is) Robert E. Howard creations and, randomly, Moon Knight that they are publishing is based on the some elements of "The Valley of The Worm." That was a 1934 Howard story starring James Allison, who could recall his past lives as various ancient heroes.
In this version, adapted and scripted by Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway, penciled by Gil Kane and inked by Ernie Chua, it opens with Allison, a well-muscled, sweaty blond man on his deathbed, narrating as his past lives as various blonde dudes parade past him, and, on a pretty great two-page splash of Siegfried battling a rearing red worm-like dragon Fafnir, as Perseus, Beowulf and Saint George look on, Allison tells us that these myths are all "but the dimmest, dreariest echo--the palest racial memory-- --of the grim, underlying reality which was the adventure of Niord Worm's-Bane--!"
Now, I haven't read the original prose story this comic adapts—but it's in the public domain now, and you can read it for free online, if you're so inclined—but having read the comics adaptation, I feel pretty secure in saying that it's probably not so great that it makes the stories of those heroes seem dim or dreary. You've got to admire Howard's gumption, though!
The comics opening struck me as really rather racist, in a way that seems shocking today. Now, finding pretty racist content in popular pulp fiction from the 1930s is no real surprise, but it struck me a little harder than usual just because this was adapted in the 1970s, and is being reprinted today.
Niord is from a race of blonde-haired, blue-eyed, pale-skinned warriors whose babies never cried, having names like Bragi and Helga. They march southward until the encounter a jungle country and hear "the tom-toms of a savage people" that they immediately go to war with. Niord calls them Picts, and they are squat, black-haired, brown-skinned, hairy, beast-like men, the champion of which has such a hard head that he doesn't die when Niord brings his shield down upon it in a blow that "should have splattered his brains like water."
This is Gorm, who becomes Niord's bro, despite Niord's casual racism.
Niord manages to kill the worm, but at the cost of his own life. I suspect that it is Allison and/or Niord that shows up in Serpent War rather than the worm, which is kinda too bad, because the worm is the coolest character in this book. Followed closely by the fur-covered inhuman hypeman with the "weirdling pipe."
Ed McGuinness, the artist who launched this Avengers series with Aaron but has only ever been an intermittent presence on the book, is here for three of the four issues collected herein, and Aaron's series of done-in-ones proves a good one for McGuinness' participation, as he's able to entirely draw several complete stories without a fill-in artist.
The first issue focuses on the new Squadron Supreme, Agent Coulson's "The Squadron Supreme of America", which was introduced fairly early in the series as the United States' answer to the more internationalized new incarnation of the Avengers, which is based in the arctic and lead by the King of Wakanda. Aaron heightens the characters' existence as analogues to the Distinguished Competition's Justice League about as much as possible, and McGuinness' art is such that I wouldn't be surprised if he drew the characters on the page as, say, Batman and Wonder Woman first, and then went back and fussed with the details to make them look more like Nighthawk and Power Princess (Nighthawk, for example, even has a scalloped cape that opens up into a bat-shape in one scene, instead of the more expected feather-y look of a guy with the word "hawk" in his name).
This explores the five-hero roster a bit, as well as the wrong-ness of them, which was apparent but unexplained upon their first appearance. Clearly Coulson, who has made as dramatic a heel turn as one can make in the Marvel Universe, is manipulating them for some nefarious purpose, as he talks about the team during a dinner with Mephisto, who increasingly looks like the ultimate villain behind all of the disparate story threads in Aaron's complex Avengers run. As far as WOTR tie-in goes, Frost Giants attack Washington, D.C. while Malekith's forces are invading Manhattan. The Squadron then suits up and goes into action against them, savagely killing them as if they were Mark Millar's Ultimates, Hyperion and Power Princess fly through giants as if they were sentient bullets, and then herding them into Lake Erie and towards Canada, at which point they were no longer America's problem.
The second issue is the most WOTR specific. It's narrated by former Agent of Atlas and current Agent of Wakanda Ken Hale, The Gorilla-Man, as he goes about some of his tasks as a member of the new Avengers' support staff. These include a meeting with double-agent Ursa Major (which they conduct in a zoo), as well as helping defend Avengers Mountain from a siege laid by Frost Giants and others of Malekith's forces. Typically, there's a lot going on, and we learn that Ursa Major isn't the only character with split allegiances. McGuinness, inked by Mark Morales, is a great artist for Gorilla-Man, and this issue gives him the opportunity to draw all sorts of scenes suggested by War Of The Realms: This Avengers line-up charging into the battle in Manhattan and a sequence devoted to unveiling Captain America's Jotunheim Strikeforce, Freya's Svartalheim Strikeforce and Captain Marvel's mission to defend Earth (in a way, this issue serves as a which-member-of-our-cast-is-doing-what-during-the-crossover guide).
The third is a She-Hulk spotlight. Narrated by She-Hulk, it tells her origin and it tells of her evolution from the fun She-Hulk to the current, more Hulk-y She-Hulk, and it meditates a bit on the differences between the original Hulk and She-Hulk, and how Bruce Banner might have thought his cousin Jennifer Walters was much luckier than he for being less monstrous for so long, although, as a man, he didn't necessarily know or understand all of the things she had to put up with as a female superhero (I think Aaron does a pretty good job on this, but hell, I'm a man too; the one part that stood out to me as maybe not accurate was Carol Danvers telling Jennifer that Trolls are "mean, strong, and tough as bargain-bin bras." Is that a...truism? I do hope Aaron ran that by some ladies in his life before turning that script in, just in case).
The character work all takes place in the narration, while the images on the pages are devoted to, first, a courtroom fantasy (Er, "psychoactive calisthenics" in some kinda high-tech Wakandan meditation chamber) in which the more familiar version of She-Hulk prosecutes the current version before a jury of other She-Hulk designs and Judge Jennifer Walters), a battle against Ulik and his troll armies, her acting as reinforcements at a Roxxon facility in Antarctica, and then back to Manhattan for Frost Giant clean-up duty (where she meets the temporarily all-seeing God Without Fear Daredevil, who passes on some "super-vague and unhelpful warnings.")
There are a couple of really fun bits in the story, but I think I liked this one the best, as it took me a few seconds to process what Ulik was saying and why he was saying it at this point:
Well, I thought it was funny.
For the final issue, entitled "The Day After A Day Unlike Any Other," McGuinness is sadly MIA, replaced by artist Jason Masters. Masters' style is very realistic and seemingly reference heady, and the style is therefore one I'm not personally crazy about. It's definitely a sharp, record-scratching change from the look and feel of the previous issues.
It opens with Tony Stark and Thor nude in Avengers Mountain's hot tub—Don't worry, Tony's wearing his helmet and using it to remote control various suits of armor, so he's not totally goofing off—and enjoying some rest and relaxation after the crossover. Soon, Captain America joins them, using his mighty shield to shield his private parts as he eases into the water and then, later, Carol Danvers (in a bathing suit), Robbie Reyes (in shorts and a t shirt) and a hulked-out She-Hulk, in nothing, prompting a variety of amusing reactions.
Throughout this scene, which the script leaves and returns to repeatedly, I couldn't help but imagine how popular such a scene would have been in the movies, if it got Chrises Evans and Hemsworth and Robert Downey Jr. shirtless and wet, nor could I help but wish that McGuinness had drawn it, or else some other Marvel artist known for drawing sexy dudes and ladies (Good guest-artist gig for Frank Cho? Or Chris Anka?).
While those slugs are relaxing, Black Panther and Blade are still working, the later dropping in on Coulson and the Squadron to level a threat and plant a seed of doubt among the Squad members, and Blade hunting vampires.
It's a really nice, fun, taking-stock sort of issue.
The final inclusion in the book is part of Free Comic Book Day 2019 (Avengers/Savage Avengers), a 10-page sequence by artist Stefano Caselli essentially showing snippets of story points that are apparently coming in the future: Iron Man in the past, face-to-face with the primordial Avengers team that appeared in the initial arc and whose individual members would have their origins told in occasional fill-in issues, Namor's Defenders of the Deep coming to blows with the Squadron Supreme over a Roxxon oil rig; Blade, Black Panther and Ghost Rider discussing the need to perform an exorcism on his car; and, finally, Carol, She-Hulk and I want to say Captain America and Thor looking quite different than usual in space.
To be clear, I've always kinda liked Walker's art, and he's clearly always been good at drawing super-comics. But this? This is is amazing work.
Walker pencils a majority of this second volume of writer Peter J. Tomasi's Detective Comics run, all of the title story save for the 12-page prologue that was published in Detective Comics #1,000 (drawn by Doug Mahnke and Jaime Mendoza). After the five-issue arc, there's also the Tomasi-written Detective Comics Annual #2 (drawn by Travis Moore and Max Raynor) collected in this volume.
There was some degree of mystery over the identity of The Arkham Knight suggested in that prologue, as well as in the marketing for this arc I had seen (That is, pretty much just the solicitations). This is, I suppose, because the character is making its in-continuity comics debut, having originally been created for one of Batman: Arkham video games (2015's Batman: Arkham Knight), where his surprise identity reveal was apparently a story point (He was Jason Todd, by the way. Spoiler!).
This Arkham Knight is...not, and the reveal is made somewhat dramatically three chapters in, after a cliffhanger in which the Knight unmasks before Robin and monthly readers would have had to wait a whole month to see who the Knight was...and to see that the cliffhanger was kind of pointless, as the character was a brand-new one, anyway ("Even without the helmet, I still don't know who the hell you are, and I really don't care," Damian responds to the unmasking, Damian-ishly).
The surprise readers will likely have experienced was that the Knight was actually a woman, and a rather young one at that. She is, to spoil the story which I am assuming you've read by now, Astrid Arkham, the never-before-revealed adult daughter of Dr. Jeremiah Arkham and his never-before-revealed wife (Why the guy who runs a gothic castle stocked with the world's most flamboyantly evil serial killers and madman kept his family on the DL should be kind of obvious). Her origin is told in full in the fourth chapter, and it's actually pretty interesting. She was born in the midst of a riot in the asylum, delivered by Poison Ivy while the likes of Harley Quinn, The Joker and Clayface protected them. Her mother, beloved even by the most wicked of the maniacs for her kindness to them, was killed by a batarang during the chaos (Not one thrown by Batman, but one that I transfer patient had picked up after it bounced off someone else's head as Batman was outside of the asylum, trying to stop break-outs).
Astrid then grows up in the asylum, where various members of Batman's rogues gallery act a bit like the animals in The Jungle Book to her, helping raise her. Naturally, she begins to see Batman from their point-of-view, and it's not like her father has the most charitable view of Batman either; in fact, he only really visits the asylum to drop off beat-up escapees. It didn't help that she saw security camera footage of a batarang killing her mother, either.
In my favorite part of the story, Batman says aloud, "So that explains why Astrid Arkham sees me as a curse hanging over Gotham," leading to the first of two great Batman burns in this book, this one from Damian:
So as The Arkham Knight, Astrid assembled a group of extremely devoted followers, many culled from the ranks of henchmen and criminals who have witnessed Batman's...negative influence up close, and dressed them up as knights with up-to-date answers to medieval weaponry. Her costume looks a bit like an Iron Man suit converted to resemble Batman, which is a little weird; I don't know why her Arkham Knight costume looks so Batman-y, except for the fact that the version from the video game and its comic book tie-ins did. Her crusade to rid Gotham City of Batman is part military and part public relations, and it involves such tactics as killing a bunch of bats, setting off a "sun bomb" to literally drive darkness out of the city and trying to recruit Robin to her cause. She also has many of the inmates on her side, particularly Dr. Phosphorous and (oddly, I thought) Anton Arcane, who help her fight Batman and Robin as the story climaxes.
Many of the ideas about how Batman is actually bad for the city are ones we've seen tossed about in other comics and other media before, but Astrid is a new messenger, and her weird anti-Batman Knights Templar group is an interesting concept, as was her origin, I thought. And hey, she's a quality new Batman villain—even if she's related to an older character and based on one from a video game—and we don't see those nearly as often as I'd like. It's sometimes a little surprising to me just how much Batman content gets produced so often, given how reluctant so many of the men (and it still almost exclusively men) who create it are to invent new villains whose IP they won't be able to exploit themselves.
I also think Tomasi is, at this point, by far the best writer of Damian Wayne, and he has a great handle on the Bruce/Damian dynamic, as well as how each relates to Alfred. Far too often—that is, pretty much everywhere other than Tomasi's comics—it seems like Batman and Robin aren't even partners anymore, let alone father and son, so rarely do they actually co-star in stories.
And, again, Walker's art is great. He does something neat with Batman and Robin's eyes, making it clear that their pupil-less appearance isn't meant to be an artistic flourish, but that they are literally wearing opaque-looking white lenses in their masks, and he allows just a suggestion of the eyes beneath the lenses at time to give us greater access to the character's expressions than might otherwise be allowed. It's pretty different than what everyone else does, but I liked it (His art also reminded me a bit of Rags Morales' here and there and, oddly enough, Bruce Timm's, at least in terms of how he draws Batman; the style is complete different, but the way he draws Batman's jawline, cowl and cape is suggestive of a realistically-rendered take on The Animated Series Batman).
I don't have as many kind things to say about the annual, which fills the last 38 pages of the book (Well, the last 38 before the variant cover gallery). So I won't say too much about it. It deals with The Reaper, introduced in the "Batman: Year Two" story arc, and how, exactly, that fits into Batman continuity at any point, let alone now that we're in this weird, unsettled period of ongoing rebooting, is beyond me. Tomasi acknowledges this, of course, having Batman pull out his Black Casebook, which deals with his "unusual and unexplainable adventures," as he says. The casebook is a concept from Grant Morrison's Batman run, and his idea was basically that all of the craziest Batman stories, even those involving transdimensional imps and rainbow monsters and robots and aliens and time travel, had really happened, just differently than they might have appeared in the original comics in which they were published.
Here I think Tomasi is using it to justify doing any kind of story about The Reaper that refers back to events in comics that I'm not sure DC says officially "happened" anymore (Even though there's nothing in it as crazy as a rainbow monster, of course).
This comic is something of an extended Morrison homage, or is at least has repeated references to Morrison's Batman comics, as it also acknowledges Batman Inc when Batman and Alfred go international to tackle what is basically Reaper Inc (We also get a look at Batman's Greek Batcave, which is pretty cool).
Given this, I rather wish one of the artist Morrison had worked with on Batman Inc had drawn this instead of Moore and Raynor, whose work is decent but unremarkable, and seems like a disappointment following so close on the heels of career best work from Walker.
Oh, and the annual does have a fantastic burn from Alfred in it:
I know that Batman is the Batman book that gets all the attention these days, as that's where all the "events" seem to happen, but Tomasi's Detective isn't just the better book at the moment, it's shaping up to be a pretty good Batman book even when compared to those from past moments, too.
I've been impressed with the scope and ambition of this book since the start, and particularly with how horrifying a horror book it actually is, but it wasn't until I was reading this fifth collection that it actually reminded me of Alan Moore, Stephen Bissette, John Totleben and company's 1980s Swamp Thing. Big, green monster man protagonist aside, the books are extremely different, but what both of them accomplish is a 180-degree turn from the superhero genre into outright horror, and then, more difficult still, keeping it up successfully. (This isn't to say that Hulk is quite as literate a book as Moore and company's Swamp Thing, which is very much the superior book, but they do share a highly-successful hero-to-horror transition in common.)
After the Hulk prevails over Fortean and seems to conquer Shadow Base, the book reaches its 25th issue, a pretty hard zig-zag into science fiction territory that I felt was a bit of a slog to read, but perhaps only because Ewing and guest artist German Garcia kept the conceit going for so many of the 40 pages. Set in the far-flung future, when the universe seems to be nearing its end, the Hulk is a galaxy-sized cosmic being and force of entropy, destroying whatever he can find to destroy, and we witness him from the point-of-view of a few members of a strange alien race that look extremely alien, and speak in such a way that reading their dialogue and narration felt more like book-reading to me than comic-reading.
The story isn't just a lark, though, nor a chance for Ewing to tell a future story that will actually never come to pass because Marvel comics are always bound by the present and, of course, the need to keep publishing more Marvel comics every month forever. No, it actually all ties back in a clever, surprising way to the return of another classic Hulk villain.
As was the case with the previous four volumes, this was a great comic—and it was great to a still surprising degree.
The art, provided by Mike Deodato, is not good. Deodato is pretty popular, and has a pretty particular, pretty well-known style, so I can't imagine that Marvel didn't know what they were getting when they signed him up for this book, but my difficulty with the art is far beyond that it's just not to my taste. Rather, there are repeated passages where I just plain couldn't make any sense out of it.
The action sequences, of which there are plenty, aren't just not good, but it can be perplexing figuring out what the hell is supposed to be happening, and it often required just reading ahead until the script or following panels or scenes later explaining it.
Here are a couple of examples.
No, a turn of the page reveals that Wolverine has just snuck up and killed the last one with his claws. That flash of red light and semi-starburst of lines is just...what it looks like when Wolverine kills a ninja with his claws just off-panel...I guess...? (You won't be able to figure out what's up with the sword and that ninja's body above with that panel out of context, I know; but it doesn't make much sense in context, either. I mean, it's clear that Conan killed him and how, but not the positioning of their bodies, as Conan seems to have teleported in the middle of the fight).
Anyway, the book is full of garbled sequences like this. Swords, arrows and other weapons don't really seem to work like they should, or to at least fall and strike at odd angles, looking wrong. Bursts of gunfire and blood and "action lines" can be difficult to parse, and seem to be inserted after the art was drawn in many cases, either as coloring effects by color artist Frank Martin, or perhaps by Deodato himself, to help clarify actions that otherwise don't make sense (The sequence of Wolverine entering the monster's body claws-first is hard to read now; would it be more or less hard without that starburst of lines...?)
I really wish another artist had at least laid this out for Deodato, because I had a really hard time making heads-or-tails out of way too much of it, and that is, of course, not how comics are supposed to work.
And, like I said, it's disappointing because the script isn't all that bad a one, and the few examples of something kind of stupid happening within it fall pretty squarely within that realm where "stupid" meets "awesome" that can make for good modern superhero comics. With the clash of tone and milieu that is at the heart of the Savage Avengers premise, it would have been particularly desirable to have either an artist who was associated with (and particularly skilled at) drawing Conan comics drawing it, or an artist closely associated with high-quality Marvel superhero comics, or comics starring these sorts of anti-hero Marvel characters drawing it, or someone adept at both, and mixing them together for the most interesting effect.
As for the story, there's a kinda garbled 10-page sequence in which Wolverine fights The Hand in the rain and Elektra and Stick show up in an Egyptian ruin, taken from Free Comic Book Day 2019 (Avengers/Savage Avengers), at which point the story begins again in earnest, with the first issue of Savage Avengers, a loose team consisting of the characters David Finch drew all standing atop a few slim pieces of rock on the cover above.
The wizard Kulan Gath has built an improbably large city without notice in Marvel's Savage Land, and facilitated an alliance between The Hand and some magical wizard types from Egypt. They are engaged in some dark ritual involving filling a gigantic bowl with blood from extraordinary people, particularly warriors, in the hopes of summoning the sort of demon god that Conan's foes so often seem to like summon.
In order to get the best Marvel warriors available, they kidnap friends and allies of the folks on the cover (Or, in The Punisher's case, they rob the graves of his family).
So Wolverine meets Conan in the Savage Land, where I believe he was unexpectedly deposited in another Avengers comic book series (Avengers: No Road Home, I think...?) and they make like Marvel characters in a brutal, but very hard to parse, fight scene, before going their separate ways: Conan wants to steal an amulet from the city, Wolvie to find and rescue a friend. He's too late, but he arrives right on time to see
Punisher blunders in, looking for his family's bodies. Elektra appears, having infiltrated the Hand. A symbiote that was being kept in a glass bottle like a genie for who knows how long is released, and temporarily bonds with Conan (somewhat unfortunately just giving Conan a big black sword and arm for a while, rather than a whole Venomized redesign). When Gath and his followers are able to raise the demon god, a centaur-shaped monstrosity, and send it into the civilized world, this ad hoc Avengers team pursues it, and there meet up with the actual Venom.
Before all is said and done, they are told by Gath that they are all now bonded by an infection or curse that will take effect within the year, so even though they mostly go their separate ways, one imagines they will continue to crisscross paths in the immediate future. Most interestingly, The Punisher is interested in Conan's Crom-worshipping faith (Or at least he says "HNNH." after Conan's five-sentence explanation of his theology, and decides to take the "long way" out of the Savage Land, dragging his family's coffins behind him with Conan, who refuses to magically teleport out).
I am exceedingly interested in Conan and Frank Castle wandering The Savage Land, fighting dinosaurs and talking about Crom, maybe comparing and contrasting Christianity with, um, Cromism, and will definitely check out the next volume. I just hope the art improves, as its exceedingly frustrating to try to separate script from art in a comic book just to make sense of the dang thing...
—Villains (Marvel) A lot of people liked a lot of things about the latest Star Wars trilogy, and I can hardly blame them—I liked a lot of things about it, too. The one thing that I didn't like, however, was how unimaginative it all felt, to the point that I rather actively disliked The Force Awakens the first time I saw it, as it felt as much like a remake of the original films as it did a continuation of them (I liked it far better the second time around, after I no longer had any expectations to be disappointed).
This collection of the suite of one-shots featuring characters from the third trilogy, one of six such series Marvel has published recently, and the third of which to feature the villains, clarifies that overall lack of imagination evidenced in those films. I mean, look at these guys; these are the new trilogy's villains? Before picking this trade up, I don't think I could have named four villains from the latest trilogy that I would have thought deserving of one-shots; after listing Kylo Ren and Captain Phasma, I would have had to start weighing the possibilities of the other members of the First Order/new Empire who are named in the films. There's Hux, sure, but do we even know enough about him to fill a 20-page comic? What about Snoke? We know even less about him.
Writer Tom Taylor, who scripted all four of these one-shots, seems to accidentally reinforce the relative blandness and lack of character of Hux and Snoke; both of their stories prominently feature Kylo Ren, indicating that there's not much too them to define them beyond their relationship to the films' only really compelling villain. Hux and Snoke are, to a large extent, merely new versions of Tarkin and Palpatine from the original film trilogy; certainly the same can be said of Kylo Ren in relation to Darth Vader, but at least that's the acknowledged point of Kylo Ren and his entire story arc (and something explicitly explored by Taylor in the Kylo Ren one-shot in this series).
Not to harp on it too much, but compare this quartet to those from the Age of Rebellion—Villains collection: Tarkin and Vader, sure, but there's also a mysterious masked bounty hunter with a cool costume (Boba Fett) and a giant slug monster who is also a space gangster kingpin (Jabba The Hutt). And the Age of Republic—Villains special featured a Boba Fett redux in Jango, but also a driven, rage-fueled kung fu answer to Darth Vader with a monster face (Darth Maul), a four-armed, bug-like, skeleton robot monster in a cape (General Greivous) and Christopher fucking Lee (Count Dooku). The Last Jedi's guys in red armor that Rey and Kylo slaughtered in Snoke's throne room, Benicio del Toro's traitorous hacker character or BB-8's First Order opposite number, 9E/BB-H8 probably have about as much claim to a one-shot as Hux or Snoke do.
Leonard Kirk pencils all four issue/chapters and Cory Hamscher inks them. I think they find the right balance between drawing in their own styles and capturing the actors who play the characters and the various costume and vehicle designs of the films. Their art is quite readable in a way that not all of Marvel's Star Wars-branded comics always are.
The first featured character is Captain Phasma, who I was rather disappointed to learn didn't survive her last fight with Finn and make it into Rise of Skywalker (Sure, she seemingly died during Last Jedi, but she also seemingly died at the end of Force Awakens). Narrated by a Stormtrooper under Phasma's command, a soldier who longs to earn a name, rank and position of power like Phasma, it's a nicely to-the-point sketch of the character as a ruthless survivor willing to spend the lives of her soldiers in order to accomplish her goals. That character trait, of course, was defined more by Delilah S. Dawson's novel Phasma than the films, which the article about the character following the story makes clear; much of what we know of Phasma comes from Dawson's novel and Kelly Thompson, Marco Checchetto and company's Star Wars: Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi—Captain Phasma miniseries, which also took its cues from Dawson's book (The same holds true of Hux; we know more about him from Chuck Wendig's Aftermath trilogy of novels than we do from Episodes VII-IX).
The two most visually striking aspects of Phasma, her height and the look of her armor, don't really translate to the comics page. I don't think her relative lack of shininess is the fault of the colorists, though, as I thought the same thing when reading the aforementioned miniseries (likewise, Jango Fett's armor lacked the film's degree of shininess in his one-shot from the first of these Villains series). Kirk and Hamscher do a fine job of keeping a degree of mystery about the character's appearance, though, as there is a scene where she takes her helmet off and they obscure her face through angles and shadows.
The next comic is General Hux, featuring the First Order's young, smarmy ginger answer to The Empire's Grand Moff Tarkin. As I said, there's not much to the character in the films, where he mainly fills the Tarkin-like role of being the non-Sith, bureaucratic villain needed to make sure the star destroyers run on time while the guy with the mask, cape and sword runs around menacing our heroes more dramatically. As I mentioned, this comic guest-stars Kylo Ren, who appears on 13 of its 20 pages (Interestingly, Phasma and Snoke also appear briefly, so that the whole gang is in this one issue).
Entitled "Marooned," the story features Hux and Ren crash-landing in a sabotaged shuttle on a planet where they are confronted by a bearded Alderaanian veteran of the last war who, like the Japanese soldier on Gilligan's Island, doesn't know the war ended, and whether or not Hux is a good guy or a bad guy. There are some fun moments in this, particularly in the bickering, adversarial relationship between Hux and Ren, who only seem to refrain from killing one another so as not to piss off their boss Supreme Leader Snoke. Though their rivalry is a draw here, there's a pretty great moment where Hux gives Ren the business by calling him "Ben" and pointing out his resemblance to his mother Princess Leia to the old Alderaanian who has them at his mercy (temporarily, of course).
That element is pretty clearly extrapolated form the films, even if the ruthlessness of Hux and his origins are taken from Phasma and the Aftermath trilogy (In fact, now that I think about it, just about everything I know about The First Order and how it grew out of The Empire comes from Wendig's Aftermath books).
Next is Supreme Leader Snoke, starring the character that J.J. Abrams positioned as the First Order's answer to The Emperor and Rian Johnson killed off unexpectedly and rather unceremoniously in one of Last Jedi's most shocking moments. Well, the comic nominally stars Snoke; in actuality, it's a Kylo Ren story, as the entire 20 pages are devoted to Snoke's training of his apprentice Kylo Ren in the ways of the Dark Side. Curiously, this involves taking Ren to the Dagobah system and sending him into the cave where Luke had to face a vision of himself in Empire Strikes Back (Sadly, there's no scene of Ren running around giving Snoke a piggyback ride). There's some pretty sharp, portentous dialogue on the final pages of this story, and Taylor does a fine job of retroactively foreshadowing Ren's Last Jedi future in a few scant lines of dialogue here, as in the way his "The past is the past" echoes his "Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to" lines from Last Jedi.
There's not much about Snoke in this comic with his name on it, but then, there's not really much to Snoke, as Rise of Skywalker made clear. Based on his appearance, his role and what I remembered of the Dark Empire comic,I had been assuming Snoke was going to turn out to be a failed clone of The Emperor; now that I (and hopefully you) have seen Rise of Skywalker, I guess I was about half right. I don't know if Taylor knew that revelation about Snoke when he wrote this or not, but, like much of this last trilogy, it doesn't make a whole hell of a lot of sense...most likely because the trilogy was written on the fly, with a tug of war of sorts between the two writer/directors responsible for alternating installments, and it will likely take some Expanded Universe novels and comics series to retroactively make sense of it all (Seriously guys, what on Earth was Palaptine's plan, post-Return of The Jedi, exactly...?).
The final issue/chapter is the official Kylo Ren one, and it's head and shoulders above the rest of them, as Taylor focuses on the most prominent, defining characteristic of the Kylo Ren character: The way he has tried to reinvent himself as the Second Coming of Darth Vader, something that seems quixotic at best to other characters (in both the Hux and Snoke, Taylor has those characters pointedly rejecting Ren's wearing of a mask) and seems all but impossible to Ren himself, just one more thing fueling his volcanic fits of anger.
An old Imperial Stormtrooper who served under Darth Vader is called back in to service to accompany and advise Kylo Ren as the First Order lands on a planet in wild space and attempts to subdue it. In years past, Vader himself tried to subdue this very same planet, leading to an epic battle between the Empire and the huge, hairy, tusked sentient beings that live there, a battle that resulted in casualties of thousands on both sides. Vader was eventually forced to withdraw under the might of the natives' god, a kaiju-sized monster with unbreakable skin.
A spectacular showcase for Kirk, this plot allows him to compare and contrast Vader and the Empire with Ren and the First Order in several scenes in which flashbacks are juxtaposed with the present action. The natives, the Benathy, are pretty cool monster designs, their outrageous difference in scale providing a neat visual that first emphasizes the childish nature of Kylo Ren, who can be seen as a little kid playing dress up and pretending to be something he's not, and then powerfully, sharply arguing the opposite, when his quick dispatching of the Bethany leaders turns him into a sort of giant slayer. ("Not so tall without legs," Ren tells the last of them, after having literally chopped him down to size).
Naturally, Ren kills it in the traditional way that a protagonist with a sword might kill a creature with unbreakable skin, after first diving into its open maw. I thought the scene was a pretty cool one, even if I've seen many previous instances of such monster-slayings in my past pop culture consumption. I continued thinking it was pretty cool for only about a day, though, as the very next night I read Andrew Maclean's Head Lopper Vol. 1: The Island or A Plague of Beasts. In the first chapter of that collection, the title character dives into the open maw of a giant sea serpent, stabs his sword out through the inside of the beast's throat, chops its head off with a single powerful stroke from the inside, and then, after a single beat, is shot far up into the air on the delayed geyser of blood spraying from the wound.
Ren may have one-upped Vader, but Maclean one-upped Taylor and Kirk.
These are all pretty solid comics, and they are all almost remarkably so, given how little the creators had to work with. But then, I guess that's always been the (or at least a) beauty of Star Wars: It generally gives just enough of a suggestion or impression of a character for talented folks to invent dozens and dozens of stories featuring the flimsiest characters or suggestions of stories.
The new iteration of the Agents of Atlas only kinda sorta does the same trick. The rather large new team line-up has a sort of bridge character between the previous Agents of Atlas, which writer Jeff Parker created based on a bit of retroactive continuity in 2006 and then kept alive through a variety of miniseries, team-ups and the occasional ongoing for the following dozen years or so, and the new team. Former FBI and SHEILD agent Jimmy Woo, who now leads Atlas, appears in this series, although his fellow "Agents" (Gorilla-Man, Namora, Marvel Boy/The Uranian, The Human Robot/M-11, Venus) are nowhere to be found. Instead, writer Greg Pak uses the team name to apply to a group of heroes whose organizing principal is simply a matter of geography and/or ancestry: All of the heroes are of Asian descent.
The connection to Atlas is tenuous at best, but Pak manages to craft a relatively short story that throws almost a dozen Asian and Asian-American heroes into a makeshift team (via the Avengers-like "And there came a day unlike any other, when earth's mightiest heroes were united against a common threat!" method of team founding) that feels natural and organic in-story, even if the real-world impetus is more artificial (That is, a new superhero team consisting entirely of Asian characters). I think it will be in Pak's next story featuring this team, given an ongoing after this War of the Realms tie-in introduction, that will truly determine how well he's able to pull off the founding of this new team.
Woo's role is sort of murky, and after 80 pages, all we really know about him from this book is that he is an experienced leader and secret agent of some kind, and that he runs a school of some kind. Of course, the fact that we know relatively little about them same could be said of almost all of the characters who appear herein. Only Amadeus Cho, formerly The Totally Awesome Hulk and now going by the name "Brawn" apparently, really gets any sustained attention. The rest of the characters are mostly introduced via name and power-set via labels applied tot he panels, which is sort of unfortunate, given the sheer number of characters, many of them apparently making their comic book debuts and/or being entirely new (From what I gather, some of the characters previously appeared in a video game of some kind...?), and even the most famous of the characters having relatively small roles.
In the first issue, Pak has Amadeus, Ms. Marvel, Silk and Shang-Chi fighting a robot at a school in Mumbai, apparently at the invitation of Jimmy Woo, introduced via text box as "Leader of Atlas and the headmaster of The Pan-Asian School For The Unusually Gifted" (As for the latter, it is the first I've heard of it, but then, switching to trades on all Marvel comics means I'm somewhat behind on much of the goings-on in the Marvel Universe; for example, this is the first time I've heard that Cho is now Brawn rather than Hulk, or noticed that his appearance has changed into a more Beast Boy-like, in-between human and Hulk form).
Jimmy is in the middle of attempting to recruit the quartet to be Agents of Atlas in a restaurant afterwards—this is a somewhat odd moment, as all four are currently active and well-known superheroes, which would seem to contradict Atlas' schtick of being a secretly heroic organization posing as a villainous one, and Shang-Chi's long career is in sharp contrast to that of the newer, younger heroes—when the events of War of The Realms intrude. Ms. Marvel, who has been bickering with Cho up to this point, returns to New York City, telling Cho to stay with Woo and the others to help defend Seoul from its otherworldly invaders. These are the fire goblins of Muspelheim, lead by The Queen of Cinders, and that's basically who the rest of the series will be spent fighting.
Other characters abound. In the opening pages, we meet Wave and Aero, who have obvious water and air powers, respectively. Already fighting fire monsters in Seoul when Cho and company arrive are magic-powered South Korean government agent White Fox and new (to me, anyway) characters Crescent, a "Tae Kwon Do prodigy" who can summon a huge magic bear that also knows Tae Kwon Do, and Luna Snow, a K-Pop star with ice powers. By the second issue, the sword-wielding Sword Master and Hawaiian volcano goddess Pele have joined the fray, and by the third, The Monkey King of The Ascendants has, while Red Feather checks in for a couple of cameos.
Got all of that? Because I only barely do. I only remember all of their names and powers because I just looked them up in the trade while writing that paragraph. I read the book last night, but if I didn't have it in front of me, I couldn't necessarily tell you all of the new characters' names, and certainly not their countries of origins. I would just know that there were female characters with air, water and snow powers, and that there was a little girl with a magical bear. It's not the best way to meet so many characters, and Pak over-relies on narration boxes to repeatedly state the characters' names and suchlike, but then, this series is perhaps best understood as the comic book equivalent of a pilot episode, some sort of teaser for future books. After all, in addition to the New Agents of Atlas ongoing, both Aero and Sword Master have their own titles now. Still, I can't help but wonder if the book might have been better-served if it were marketed as a Amadeus Cho book guest-starring all of these other characters—which is, in effect, what it actually is—rather than the introduction of a new team with a familiar name.
At any rate, with the forces of Muspelheim descending on Asia, their assigned continent in War of The Realms villain Malekith's divvying up of Earth to his allies, the superheroes who defend that part of the world—and the Americans of Asian descent that were visiting Jimmy's school—unite to defend it. When Jimmy gets knocked out, Amadeus is put in the position to command the others, something he is both uniquely qualified for as well as ill-suited to do (which of them knows best has been an ongoing argument between Cho and Ms. Marvel since the earliest issues of the first volume of the 21st century's Champions books).
Obviously, the heroes win the day, thanks in large part to some subterfuge on Jimmy's part, and the book ends with a conversation between Jimmy and Amadeus. When Amadeus tells Jimmy that none of them can ever trust him again, he simply replies, "But you trust each other, don't you?" At which point Amadeus gives him a meaningful look and goes off to help the others. "Carry on, then..." Jimmy says, "...AGENTS OF ATLAS," those last words appearing over a splash page in which Amadeus, Shang-Chi, White Fox and five of the new/new-er characters are depicted helping put out fires and aiding survivors in a burning section of Shanghai.
This is far from the best comic I've read of Pak's (dude's a really rather great super-comics writer), but given the challenges of writing a dozen heroes over the course of just 80 pages, it's easy to imagine how much worse it could have been had a less-skilled writer been tasked with making this work. The War of The Realms tie-in aspect certainly eats up a large part of that page-count, but Pak uses it to his advantage, with the fire goblins basically serving as a generic enemy for the heroes to team-up to repel...divorced from the War of The Realms, this tried and true Marvel team formation plot wouldn't have worked without feeling forced, I think. There are bits of humor on display here and there, but nowhere near as much as I would have expected or hoped, given how funny many of Pak's earlier comics featuring Amadeus Cho have been.
The artwork by Gang Hyuk Lim (with Moy R and Pop Mhan helping out on the final issue), is perfectly serviceable, but doesn't really stand out much from the artwork seen in so many other Marvel comics. I suppose that's a mixed blessing. I wish more effort was expended in making the characters more distinct from one another, and from all the other scores of Marvel characters, but I'm not sure Lim had much say in the character designs. Of those, too many look too functional and familiar. Luna Snow, for example, looks little different than Quake, save for the fact that half of her hair is white, and White Fox's costume looks little different than Luna's. Wave, at first glance, looks like she could be any one of several characters, hailing from either Atlantis or Asgard.
As I said, I think it will be the next storyline that determines the future of Pak's New Agents of Atlas. I can definitely see potential here—and hell, if nothing else, it's certainly refreshing to get a whole bunch of new and different characters injected into the Marvel Universe like this—but I found this particular trade paperback more disappointing than compelling.
this interview I did with Howard for Good Comics For Kids. I discussed the book here before too, as one of the kids comics I read last year that tackled the subject of climate change. Like the earlier entries in Howard's series, it's fantastic, a great balance of educational and entertaining, and on one of the coolest subjects there is: Prehistoric life.
Emma Steinkellner's debut graphic novel as both writer and artist is better than okay; it's good.
my review, and tweeted about upon first reading the first third of their storyline. I certainly liked it enough that I hope there's more Superman from this particular team in the future; they're particularly well-suited for Golden Age Superman adventures for an all-ages audience.
It's a pretty powerful comic, and quite well made. One thing I noticed about the book is that when Takei reaches the 1960s or so, and starts to talk about the behind-the-scenes nature of his time in Hollywood, I found myself increasingly curious about that, and for a second or three I was kind of surprised and disappointed that he didn't go into greater detail or keep going on about his career...at least until I remembered the limited-scope of the memoir, and that this wasn't a complete biography of Takei. The world of mid-twentieth century television is so alien to me (I have, people are sometimes surprised to learn, never seen a single episode of any Star Trek show, nor any of the movies, somehow), that it seems fascinating to me, and the glimpses we see of what it must have been like to be a young, gay, Asian man trying to get roles back then sounds like pretty fertile ground for a memoir, too.