Sunday, May 03, 2020

A Month of Wednesdays: April 2020


Batman Universe (DC Comics) Brian Michael Bendis writing Batman is something I've been concerned about for a while now, ever since it was first announced that he was going to quit making his Marvel for a while and start writing for DC Comics, in fact. Batman seemed the most attractive DC property with which to lure a superstar writer away from Marvel, and, based on all of the crime comics Bendis wrote early in his career and his long stint on Marvel's Batman-lite character Daredevil, the franchise seemed like the one that the writer would have quite an affinity for.

I was quite pleasantly surprised to see that Bendis started instead with the Superman franchise, though, and has since written more less sure-fire hits, going on to resurrect Young Justice and The Legion of Super-Heroes, trying his hand at an event series (Event Leviathan) and even attempting to introduce a new character into the DCU in Naomi (which was, as a comic book, no damn good, I'm unhappy to report). In fact this was his only major Batman foray so far, although I still suspect we'll get an announcement of him taking over the Bat-books eventually.

Batman Universe, of course, began its serialization in DC's new breed of Giants, back when they were Walmart exclusive...then it was serialized as a miniseries, and now it is a collection. Personally, I would have preferred to wait for the cheaper trade paperback then buying this $25 hardcover (which is the main reason I haven't been following much of Bendis' DC work to date; DC Comics insists on publishing all his stuff as hardcovers first and then going to trades months later, after I've forgotten about them), but heck, I just couldn't wait any longer to read this comic.

Having read the first issue of the miniseries previously, I knew before cracking open this cover that I didn't have too much reason to worry. As in his earliest Superman comics, Bendis seems to have managed to avoid his most frustrating, Bendsian writing ticks and he did not, as I fear, write Batman, Alfred and company as Standard Bendis Smartass Characters. Which isn't to say the story is perfectthere is one element I didn't care for, which I'll return to in a bitbut it's far more perfect than I would have predicted, based on a lifetime of reading Brian Michael Bendis comics and reading Batman comics.

A lot of that credit is due to artist Nick Derington, here colored by Dave Stewart. I don't have the precise artistic vocabulary to explain how much I like Derington's art, or what precisely I like about it, but it is suggestive of some of my favorite artists without looking all that much like any of them, and Derington ably, effortless balances a great deal of detail with more abstracted, expressive art. Given the guest-star filled romp nature of Bendis' plotthis could very easily have been entitled The Brave and The BoldI can quite easily imagine disliking this story were it drawn differently perhaps by, say, a Bendis collaborator like Michael Gaydos or Alex Maleev or Michael Deodato, whose styles are far lazier looking, the shortcuts they take visible to the untrained eye.

This is basically a grand tour of the entirety of the DC Universe, using the prism of the publisher's most popular as the point of departure, with Batman essentially serving as our P.O.V. character. It starts on his home turf, with Batman trying to foil The Riddler, and then the adventure quickly takes Batman out of Gotham City to exurban America, and then out of America to Amsterdam. And, rather quickly, throughout time, space and reality, as he travels to (a) Gorilla City, Dinosaur Island, Thanagar and the Old West, teaming up with the likes of Green Arrow, Green Lantern Hal Jordan, Jonah Hex and Nightwing and crossing paths with Deathstroke, The Justice League and Green Lantern Corps, at one point chasing the story's villain through eight realities in which we see Enemy Ace, The Atomic Knights, Superman from the cover of Action Comics #1 and so on.

You know how at the start of a new writer/artist collaboration, sometimes the writer will ask the artist what they might like to draw, and then take those suggestions into consideration, trying to work in the sorts of things they might enjoy drawing? Looking back at Batman Universe, it really seems as if Bendis asked Derington what he might like to draw, Derington gave him an extremely long and detailed list, and then Bendis decided to honor every single item on that list, no matter how crazy, so that he is able to get in ninjas, dinosaurs, gorillas, The Metal Men, Cowboy Bruce Wayne, Alfred-in-Kato Cosplay, Kyle Rayner, a Guardian of The Universe, several different Vandal Savage designs and a whole action figure line's worth of alternate, awesome Batman costumes into a single, relatively short story. (The whole thing is a rather fleet and fast-moving 147-pages.)

Derington certainly draws the living hell out of every single panel in this book, and character after character looks like the best I've seen that character in forever; seriously, Derington goes from a definitive Batman to a definitive Green Arrow to a definitive Hal Jordan to a definitive Jonah Hex and just...keeps...going.

So, the one thing I didn't like about the story? Well, it's a small thing, but it still bugged me a bit (as small things tend to do, especially when they come in pretty much perfect comics). The entire scenario begins with Batman trying to stop The Riddler from stealing a faberge egg, which is actually encasing a cosmic device of great power, one that has the ability to affect people's minds, as well as shunt people through time and space.

It's not until we near the climax that we find out exactly what it is: A White Lantern ring. That ring gives Batman one of his many cool, temporary costumes throughout this adventure (I really liked the wings the Thanagarians gave him too, and hope he adds those to his collection; certainly a more dignified way of flying around with the Justice League then having Green Lantern carry him in a bubble or something!).

The thing is, this is a White Lantern ring, not the White Lantern ring, and it seems to have a different story and different function than the one that Geoff Johns spent hundreds of pages and years building up to revealing in his run on the Green Lantern franchise, culminating in Blackest Night and Brightest Day.

 Sure, Flashpoint immediately wiped out some of that in some form...I know Kyle became White Lantern for a while during The New 52boot, but at that point Green Lantern continuity was basically a big shrug emoji, so it wasn't the hardest thing in the world to try to bracket this off from all the other stories involving a White Lantern ring of some kind I've read in the past, but, I don't know, I would have preferred either an acknowledgement or explanation of the two different rings, or perhaps this ring being...something else.

I guess Johns used up the whole rainbow, as well as white and black, so Bendis and Derington didn't have all that much in the way of options for the ring here, but given the very specific history of a White Lantern ring in 21st Century DC Comics, some separation might have been preferable...perhaps if it were just a light ring, and thus not assigned a color at all...? (It doesn't have the White Lantern symbol on it, but is basically blank-looking. The idea is that this was an ancient prototype of the Green Lantern rings that has become corrupted or broken over the millennia, but then, I guess Johns, Robert Venditti and other writers have also explored precursors to the Green Lantern rings aw well so...I don't know.)

Anyway, that's the only thing I didn't like about this, and I now look forward to Bendis either taking over the Bat books or Justice League...just so long as he's paired with Derington.


I know Event Leviathan has been collected now, but I'm actually a little nervous to read that, as it's drawn by the aforementioned Maleev, and Bendis/Derington did such a fantastic job on a DCU-spanning story here, I'm afraid that the Bendis/Maleev teaming is going to prove a disappointment...

Dead Eyes Vol. 1 (Image Comics) I bought the first serialized issue of this series way back in 2018, when it was still called Dead Rabbit, but apparently a copyright or trademark conflict with a New York City bar with the same name necessitated a name change (The Dead Rabbit bar has also published a pair of books, one of which, intriguingly, is described as "a groundbreaking graphic novel style cocktail book"). Obviously, a lot of time has passed between the time I read that first issue and the time I read this four-issue collection, but I didn't really notice any changes to that first issue while rereading it here, aside form the logo, the name they call the lead character and maybe, maybe an alteration of the straps on his hat on the cover...?

I...don't think it's a big deal, really. The name "Dead Rabbit" apparently originated from the turn-of-the-last-century Gangs of New York era of crime, but, for the purposes of the Gerry Duggan and John McCrea's comic, which is set in Boston and features a masked robber from the '90s coming out of retirement, it was basically just a colorful name chosen by our protagonist, Martin, to use while he's "working." His costume wasn't particularly rabbit-like, but it did have cartoon style x's over the eyes, and that, ultimately, is what the creators stuck with for the name. The new logo's pretty good, too.

Their story opens in my least favorite way, exposition via television news. Granted, if I were a comic book writer, I might change my tune on that pretty quickly, because I do understand that it is the quickest, most efficient way to setup a premise for the book, but the easiness of the move also means that everyone does it, and that is what always draws attention to it for me, and makes it seem derivative. That news report is about how "the masked criminal hooligan" Dead Eyes disappeared after supposedly making one last big score.

In reality, Martin never made that particular score, but he made enough to retire and live his life happily with wife Megan...until the bills for her chronic illness got to be so much that he had to come out of retirement. Ironically, he goes into a new field: Walmart greeter, which he does on the sly so as not to worry her regardimg their financial situation. But when he notices a man with a shopping cart that seems to have been filled working off of a "how to get rid of a body" grocery list, he investigates and finds some pretty evil Ariel Castro shit.

So he kills the bad guys and frees the victims...who happen to see his mask, and suddenly, he's Dead Eyes again. With his wife's bills mounting, he decides that he might as well be Dead Eyes for profit again. Of course, not only is he different than he was when he was in his prime, but so is the world, his former accomplices and his new enemies.

So this is basically a crime comic, with a slight enough visual hook in the form of Martin's work clothes to appeal to super-comics readers. Duggan's script is structured in such a way that this sure feels like a book meant to be the first draft of a potential film script and/or to help sell a movie to a studio. There are a few panels of McCrea's art, colored throughout by Mike Spicer, where I even thought I detected casting suggestions (like Bryan Cranston as Martin/Dead Eyes). Certainly the topicalor, at least, pre-coronavirus topicalmedial bills element help sell it as a bit more relevant than it might otherwise be.

Even if that was their motivation, however, Duggan and McCrea are both old pros at making comics, so while one could read this and perhaps suspect it was created with one eye towards film adaptation, it still looks, reads and works like a comic book story should, something too often missing from movie pitch comics (that's usually the best way to spot such comics; they look like illustrated scripts from people who don't know the ins-and-outs of comics that comes from actually making them).

Toward the end of the comiclike, the very endMartin notices something that could point him to a next, even bigger score, and with the cost of medical care being what it is, and Megan befriending her fellow patients who are in even more dire financial straights than she, a volume 2 is promised. In fact this is a series that could likely go on until we get some sort of "Medicare For All," and then Martin might need a different rationale for robbing from the rich and giving to the poor...but keeping a very, very generous cut for himself.

Man-Wolf: The Complete Collection (Marvel Entertainment) The 400 pages or so of this big, fat $39.99 trade paperback collection spans the years 1973-1981, from Amazing Spider-Man #124, on the heels of Gwen Stacy's death (which there is quite a lot of soap opera emotion about in that issue), to Peter Parker, Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #3, with issues of Creatures on The Loose, Marvel Premiere, Marvel Team-Up and Savage She-Hulk in-between. A who's who of creators were involved, including artists Gil Kane, Ross Andru, George Perez, Sal Buscema, John Byrne and writers Gerry Conway, Doug Moench, Tony Isabella, David Anthony Kraft and Marv Wolfman, although I can't imagine many of those men would cite their Man-Wolf comics as their proudest achievements, nor would many fans refer to, say, Gil Kane as "the guy who penciled the first appearance of Man-Wolf."

Much of what makes the book so fascinating to read now, in 2020, is to see how drastically the character changed in the span of eight years, not just in terms of his role as a tragic-ish Spider-Man supporting character-turned-adversary to a monster hero, but also his story and even genre, going from a pretty straightforward, classic werewolf to a super-powered, sword-wielding sci-fi/fantasy hero.

Some of that is likely due to the changes in writers and venues, of course, but much of it also has to do with the passage of time and the need for the serial Spider-Man saga (and superhero comics in general) to keep finding new things for its characters to do. Read almost any super-comics character's Wikipedia page, and there seem to be an insane amount of changes, some quite radical, and this is especially the case with minor characters like Man-Wolf (Like, 400 pages might seem like a lot, but over the course of eight years? Imagine how many pages of adventures Spider-Man or Batman would have had in that same time).

Unlike the iconic, long-lived heroes who might change drastically for the length of a story line or a new sales approach and then gradually return to their more standard iterations, a minor character like Man-Wolf doesn't really have an essential version that gravity will return him too, so he can easily go from an astronaut-turned-werewolf to an inter-dimensional psychic divinity on a planet of barbarians, and back and forth a few times.

When we first meet J. Jonah Jameson's astronaut son John Jameson, he's in town to introduce his father to his fiancee, Kristine. That night, he changes into a white werewolf wearing a weird yellow romper with green trim, which he says is made of the same material that astronaut suits are, and is meant to screen out lunar radiation to stop him from turning into a werewolf; I suspect it's actually just there to cover up his bathing suit area and make him look like he fits into a Spider-Man comic (it might have also been something to visually differentiate him from Marvel's then-new werewolf character, Jack Russell, "Werewolf By Night"; same goes for his white coloring and more prominent snout). If it were to screen out lunar radiation, then one might think it would cover his limbs as well as his crotch and torso, and, most importantly, cover up the red gemstone at his throat. See, that is the key to Jameson's transformation; when he was on the moon, he found a gem, and returning to Earth, he fashioned it into a necklace, but it gradually bonded with his flesh, and now whenever the light of the moon hits it, he transforms.

So really, a yellow scarf of astronaut suit material would do him a lot more good than this romper with a plunging neckline, bu then, I suppose, we wouldn't have a comic. In general, John's really pretty terrible at being a werewolf, rarely if ever taking anything in the way of precautions to make sure that once he transforms he doesn't trash his apartment, escape and try to kill anyone, with his father and Kristine being the most regular targets.

This initial arc, written by Conway and inked by John Romita over first Kane's pencils and then Andru's, is basically a Spider-Man vs. Man-Wolf story, with Jameson caught in the middle, serving as a reverse cheerleader for Spider-Man as the hero fights to save his life (Oh, how I wished Sam Raimi's Spider-Man series lasted another seven to eight movies, and maybe we could have seen J.K.Simmons in a space-werewolf-centric plot!). It ends with Spidey ripping the necklace off of Man-Wolf's throat and throwing it into the East River (which isn't very responsible on his part, but, to be fair, there were only a few panels left, and maybe Conway didn't know anyone, himself included, would ever want to use Man-Wolf again).

Man-Wolf next resurfaces in Giant-Size Superheroes #1, wherein Michael Morbius, "The Living Vampire!" changes him back into Man-Wolf and puts the necklace back on him, having used his living vampire powers to fish it out of the river. He basically just uses Man-Wolf as muscle for a pretty unimpressive crime that he really could have pulled off on his own or hired, I don't know, The Enforcers for.

From there, Man-Wolf graduates to Creatures On The Loose, and is sans Spider-Man for some time as John is hunted by law enforcement, and then Kraven The Hunter, and then ultimately heads south, where he runs into a rather unexpected Marvel villain. During this time, Moench, Isabella and finally David Kraft all take up the torch of scripting duties, while George Perez handles the pencil art or lay-outs. It was honestly pretty amazing seeing an early 1970s Perez's art, and how quickly it developed, until it went from barely recognizable (there's an issue drawn by Perez and inked by Klaus Janson that barely registered as Perez's work, save for a few sequences with very small, cinematic panels) to his bonkers issues of Marvel Premiere, wherein Man-Wolf gains the power of speech, some fantasy clothing and weapons, and the genre suddenly becomes all-out sword and sorcery.

That's probably the climax of the book...but there are still a half-dozen or so issues to go. Two issues of Marvel Team-Up featuring Spidey, Frankenstein's Monster and, barely, Man-wolf; two more issues of Amazing Spider-Man, with Man-Wolf again back in mind-controlled werewolf mode; a pretty bizarre Savage She-Hulk two-parter involving Shulkie, Zapper, Richard Rory (oh God I hope those two are in her  upcoming Disney+ show!), Hellcat and the various barbarian characters from the Marvel Premiere storyline (and here Man-Wolf is once again in his "Stargod" persona); and, finally, the Spectacular Spider-Man annual in which Spider-Man and Dr. Curt Connors use an invention of his to cure Jameson of the moonstone and the Man-Wolf curse once and for all...

Or, at least, once and for a while, as I know there were plenty of Man-Wolf comics that followed thisincluding a relationship and marriage to She-Hulk; I first encountered the character during the 2005-2009 She-Hulk series launched by writer Dan Slott and Juan Bobillobut this seems a good enough place to finish his story. I suppose Marvel could do another volume or two collecting his other appearances, but, form what I can gather, in those he seems to be more of a supporting character than the protagonist, as he was in Creatures... and Marvel Premiere.

Of course, I suppose a second volume of Man-Wolf comics will be contingent on whether or not Sony decides to go forward with a Man-Wolf movie...


Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 5: Behind The Scenes (Marvel) Fun fact about this month's "Month of Wednesdays"this volume here is the only one that I borrowed in the traditional way, meaning that I saw it in my local public library, checked it out, brought it home and read it. The four comics below  this one were all borrowed on Hoopla, which you should totally see if your library has or not, because oh my God, there is so much good stuff on there!

This volume collects the post-"Hunted" comics in the series, ASM #24-28, with Amazing Spider-Man: Hunted apparently functioning as "Volume 4," even though it's not designated as such; man, Marvel Comics, why do you hate readers so much...?

Nick Spencer writes them all, while Ryan Ottley and Kev Walker pencil most of what's within these pages; Ottley penciling issue #24 and some of #25, Walker pencilling some of #25 and all of #26-#28, and then Humberto Ramos and Pat Gleason also drawing parts of #25...there's also two shorts which must have also appeared in #25, which Marvel treated as a big-deal anniversary issue, despite the fact that their wonky publishing schedule and constant reboots basically render such anniversaries meaningless.

That issue does make this a somewhat rocky read, as the second "chapter" of the collection includes a five-page sequence drawn by Gleason that interrupts the ongoing plot, and mainly exists here to tease the next big thing, the appearance of Spider-Man 2099. (Incidentally, while I'm a big fan of Gleason's, his style contrasts so sharply with that of Ottley, Ramos and Walker that it sticks out quite a bit, and even feels somewhat wrong for the least in this sort of short, inserted passage; I suppose were he drawing a whole story arc, it would be a completely different matter.)

As for that ongoing plot, after an issue spent with Spider-Man and MJ processing the events of "Hunted" and, in particular, the vision Peter saw of her at the centipede guy's mercy, an issue that also includes the centipede guy ("Kindred," apparently) and Mysterio, we jump to the anniversary issue, which has Spidey dealing with a Lizard sub-plot while MJ rescues a Broadway show from the new, female Electro. Said new, female Electro is on her way to prison when she is rescued by The Syndicate, a distaff Sinister Six lead by the newer, female Beetle from the Nick Spencer-written Superior Foes of Spider-Man. The Syndicate eventually goes after Boomerang, which thus necessitates a Boomerang/Spider-Man team-up.

After the stops and starts of the first 40 pages or so, the book really finds new momentum in this story line...only to end a little abruptly, as the "extras" from ASM #25 appear at the end of the trade (Which is the best place to put them, I suppose, but I was a little disappointed that the resolution of just why it is that Kingpin is so mad at Boomerang is pushed off until a later volume).

Those back-ups? A 10-page Zeb Wells and Todd Nauck story in which a Spider-Man/J. Jonah Jameson team-up leads directly into a Spider-Man/Dr. Strange one, and a five-page Keaton Patti/Dan Hipp story that is a riff on that Internet meme/gag, opening with a panel filled with the following prose:
We forced a bot to read every SPIDER-MAN comic and then asked it to make its own Spider-Man comic. This is what it created.
That joke...doesn't really work, given that the bot is apparently a writer and artist in this scenario, but I really dig Hipp's art in general, and there are some fun images in this, like Peter Parker going out fo rmilkshakes with six of his past girlfriends all at once, and an amalgam of Jameson and Kraven The Hunter that oddly looks...right.

The Wells/Nauck story didn't do much for me either, I'm afraid; the last pages seemed to end so abruptly that I wondered if perhaps this story continued elsewhere, but on a second reading I think I get what Wells was going for, with Spider-Man being to Dr. Strange as Jameson is to Spider-Man here, but it took me the two reads to get it. I did like the first few exchanges between Spidery and Jameson in this story though.

Archie's Superteens Vol. 1 (Archie Comics) This was a surprisingly, even shockingly weak showing from Archie Comics, considering the relatively high quality of so much of their "New Riverdale" comics over the last few years, and the publisher's success in temporarily inserting their characters into other genres and unusual narratives (see the next book reviewed, for instance). Some of that shock probably comes from the fact that, to me at least, the superhero genre seems like one of the easiest, most natural one for so many of the creators that have worked with Archie on those very same comics over the last half-decade or so; I mean, when they first decided to reboot their flagship comic, who did they turn to but superhero super-fan-turned-superhero comic editor-turned superhero comic writer Mark Waid...? Just running through the list of writers and artists I've seen attached to the various post-reboot Archie comics I've read, I want to say that most of them have come from the world of superhero comics.*

So I was expecting a lot more from the main story in this collection, which was originally published in 2018 as Archie's Superteens Vs. The Crusaders...despite the fact that while there are plenty of Crusaders in its pages, they all do relatively little, and certainly don't come into conflict with the Superteens at any point. The collection thus rather wisely drops them from the title, and is something of an awkward hybrid, containing a 40-page story that basically just introduces the Archie and friends' superhero identities and a whole mess of The Crusaders and other superhero characters that Archie owns the IP to in what appears to, immediately followed by a good 70 pages worth of reprints of Superteens short stories from 1965-67.

I'm honestly a bit perplexed by the writer Ian Flynn's new story, which is penciled by David Williams and inked by Gary Martin, as there's so little story there. It's not really much of a parody of superhero comics, nor is it much of a crossover with The Crusaders characters. Nor is it really an introduction to either set of characters, beyond the very basic "This person's name is so-and-so, that person's name is so-and-so..." sort of introduction. I've no idea what Flynn's mandate was here, but, if I had to guess, I would assume it must have beeen to make sure the superhero names of "Pureheart," "Bob Phantom," "Captain Commando" and the other dozen or so got used to maintain the copyrights.

So, here's the story, for what it's worth: Archie, Jughead, Betty and Veronica  have a substitute teacher, a Mr. Zardox. He snatches Jughead's Mighty Crusaders comic from his hands, and tells the students he's here to teach themand the world!a valuable lesson. At which point he disappears into a trapdoor, emerging later in a giant robot he calls a "Zar-Bot!" and begins wrecking the school.

The Black Hoodnot the new "Dark Circle" version, but a more classic-looking oneshows up to help, but he's over-powered, so it's up to Archie and pals to transform into Pureheart, Superteen, Miss Vanity and Captain Hero, all with updated costumes (Archie's Pureheart costume has the same color scheme, but has more of an armored look to it; Jughead's Captain Hero costume is my favorite by far, as Williams gives the tunic part a semi-scalloped look that echoes the points of his crown beanie, but in the other direction).

From their respective bases, Steel Sterling of The Mighty Crusaders and a quartet of villains named The Eliminators watch the action on their monitors; the former with concern, the latter to laugh at Zardox, who they rejected from potential membership due to his general lameness. Sterling eventually checks in with or sends in (deep breath) Black Jack, Bob Phantom, Captain Commando, Captain Flag, The Comet, Firefly, The Fox, Inferno, Mr. Justice, The Shield and The Web. That's a whole lot of super-guys! (And it's just super-guys; there are no female Crusaders in the comic, not even the couple who appear on the cover).

If Flynn had eliminated The Crusaders from the story entirely, or, like, halved them, the story wouldn't have lost anything beyond what feels like random cameos, which is why I suspect this had more to do with reminding the world these characters exist and that Archie Comics owns them than anything else. Otherwise, at perhaps just 20 or so pages, it would have worked okay in the same way that the old Superteens comics workedas gentle superhero parodies.

There's a lot of unrealized potential here, and I would not be at all surprised if Archie Comics returns to the Superteens concept sometime soon-ish for a fuller exploration than what we got here. Given how all-around brilliant something like, say, Jughead's Time Police came out, I'm sure there's a Superteens opus yet to be written.

Oh, and I still wouldn't mind reading a Superteens Vs. Mighty Crusaders comic. Here, the characters just sort of all appear in the same place at the same time, but there's no conflict of any kind between them. They're all on the same side, all fighting a single giant robot.

As for the reprints, I actually enjoyed them a lot more than the perplexing new story. These are all Crusaders-less, and focused entirely on the Superteens...with various stories starring either Archie's Pureheart the Powerful, Jughead's Captain Hero or Betty's Superteen...and a few featuring Reggie's Evilheart in opposition to Archie's Pureheart. Interestingly, there's no cross-story continuity, so in one story, Archie is a superhero and Betty and Jughead are not, while in another, Betty is a superhero and Archie and Jughead are not.

In keeping with 1960s Archie Comics, the gags aren't exactly all-time winners, but the art is fantastic. I think my favorite bit is how incredibly ungrateful the people of Riverdale are whenever a hero messes up...that, or the sheer weirdness of Reggie realizing the power of Archie's goodness makes him a superhero, and then just immediately stumbling into his own supervillainous identity by the impurtiy of his own thoughts (Flynn, by the way, references the purity of Archie's thoughts in his story when Archie and the girls are kidnapped by Zardox and put in a small laser cage; his proximity to the girls and their tight costumes mean he is powerless due to his horniness...although Flynn doesn't say it quite so directly as that).

Archie Vs. Predator II (Archie) 2015's highly inspired Archie Vs. Predator miniseries seems like a particularly difficult one to provide a sequel to, and not just because of the diminishing returns that so often accompany sequels. Rather, at the end of the original series, almost every name character in Riverdale is dead, as are the two title characters...sort of.

So it's something of a surprise that not only did Archie Vs. Predator II retain the original series' writer Alex de Campi, but it is also a direct sequel, picking up just where the original left off. The premise, and this too seemed pretty inspired on De Campi's part, is to approach this story from the point of view of the first series' only two real survivors, Betty and Veronica.

Apparently, as unbelievable as it may seem, the original Archie Vs. Predator was the last comic to feature the Archie Comics characters in their previous, pre-"New Riverdale" designs, and that all of the comics published since then have been done in some variation of the new style first established by artist Fiona Staple (More unbelievable yet, De Campi seems to imply in her introduction that Archie Vs. Predator was the last appearance of the original conception of the Predator aliens too, which got rejiggered a bit in the screamingly disappointing 2018 film The Predator; I haven't been following Predator comics closely enough to know if this is true or not. I think the last one I read was 2018's Predator: Hunters, but it didn't make much of an impression, I'm afraid).

So her approach is pretty meta, with Betty and Veronica not only lamenting the fact that everyone they know is now dead, but that the world seems to have rejected them and their Riverdale in favor of a new and different one. See, they are the last survivors not only of the Predator alien, but of the original Archie Comics line. Unable to undo their nightmare present, the pair take their Archie/Predator hybrid pile into a car and then drive off, looking for a new place to call home ( The hybrid now looks like Archie but has the mind of the Predator, and he can communicate only by speaking in emoji-filled dialogue balloons; later in the story, the Predator's head will rip out of the Archie head, and he will from then on be depicted as a Predator-headed Archie).

The first place they find is Riverdale...but not their Riverdale. Rather, they pull into the "New Riverdale" Riverdale, and there they almost immediately happen upon those versions of themselves on their way to a Halloween dance with Archie, Jughead and Dilton Doiley (who is here hot). They are not out of danger, however; New Dilton has ordered a mask online to use as a component of his Halloween costume, and that mask just so happens to be a Predator mask...which has had its homing beacon activated, meaning that the Predators are going to be coming to this Riverdale in order to recover the Archie/Predator.

Although a great deal of the novelty of the Archie gang in mature readers situations has long since worn offwhen Hotdog is torn to pieces by the dreadlock-rocking Predator dogs seen in the last Predator movie, I realized that this was at least the third time I have seen Hotdog violently killed, most recently last week when I finally caught up on Jughead: The Hunted—De Campi's placement of Betty and Veronica within the "continuity" of old Archie Comics makes this a rather fun and refreshing read, as they constantly refer back to all of the various insane elements of past comics, up to and including Veronica texting "Frank" for help in the middle of the Predators' attack on the school dance, only to get an answer of "New phone who dis" from someone named "Bucky." Additionally, this Betty and Veronica are  constantly reacting to the reboot, and comparing and contrasting between the two versions, even the two versions of themselves.

Which leads to the one problem I had with what is otherwise a pretty brilliant book, albeit one which probably only works that well for a somewhat limited audience of adults at least passably familiar with pre- and post-reboot Archie Comics. Artist Robert Hack is pretty great at drawing all of the characters, his realistic style particularly well-suited to the New Riverdale designs and the monstrous Predators and their pets and ships, but Betty, Veronica and Archie/Predator look like they belong to the world of New Riverdale, not Old Riverdale. Fernando Ruiz penciled them in the old "house style" for the first Archie Vs. Predator series, but here they are more-or-less identical to their dopplegangers' designs (There's some slight difference in hairstyles, and apparently New Betty's boobs are smaller than Old Betty's, which Old Veronica calls attention to).

Archie didn't necessarily have to have a second artist drawing the three survivors, but Hack really should have drawn them in a different style that approximated or even just suggested the old house style, to play up the differences. As is, the script tells us one thing that the art doesn't necessarily show, and that's not a particularly great way to run a comic book series. Sure, the Archie characters changed quite a bit between 1941 to 2015, but the gulf in style between, say, Bob Montana and Dan DeCarlo and Dan Parent is infinitesimal compared to that between Hack and any Archie Comic prior to Mark Waid and Fiona Staples' Archie #1.

I wasn't entirely sure about the new Predators, either, as they seem to look more like the Predator-of-Predators from The Predator movie, but I mostly blocked that movie out of my memory, on account of its badness, so I was perfectly fine accepting whatever the comic wanted to tell me about what Predators look like these days.

Oh, and then there's this neat, canonical resolution of the nearly 80-year love triangle between Archie, Betty and Veronica:

I won't spoil the very ending of the series, which is actually pretty close to perfect (again, a variation in the art style would have made it perfectly perfect), but De Campi really impressed the hell out of me with this sequel, which I honestly didn't think could or should even exist,

Not that there shouldn't be more Predator/Archie crossoversGod no, quite the opposite! I'd like a whole early-90s DC-style summer annual crossover event of Predators hunting Riverdale teens!**

And I'd still kind of like the crossover promised in some of the variants, like these... which the Predator is basically just like the new, cool kid at school who steals Archie's thunder, and ends up being something more of a Reggie than a unstoppable warrior alien who saw The Most Dangerous game. Seriously, some of those covers suggest a whole miniseries worth of jokes all on their own.

Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III (DC Comics) Of the three crossover miniseries that were written by James Tyinon IV and drawn by Freddie Williams II, this was by far my favorite, despite "Crisis on The Half-Shell"'s use of the DC multiverse as something of a crutch, and the premise's similarity to the 2009 Turtles Forever animated film.

What I am assuming is the IDW continuity's Krang now makes his home in the belly of the (dead?) Anti-Monitor, and the brain-shaped alien is now likewise gigantic. He has merged the Earths of the IDW TMNT and that of Batman into a single, amalgamated Earth, in which Bruce Wayne's parents were run over by a truck carrying mutagen that has hijacked by Joe Chill, and a canister of that mutagen fell from the truck and shattered the glass bowl containing the four pet turtles Bruce Wayne had just bought after seeing a movie with his parents.

Bruce and those turtles are discovered by a rat in the sewers of New Gotham City, and the rat raises the five as brothers, training them to be ninja. Why Bruce adopted the name Batman and a bat costume isn't detailed, but it's a sharp contrast with his brothers, who simply go by the names young Bruce had assigned them moments before the accident, and their costumes now reflecting an amalgamation of their standard color-schemes with those of Batman's current and former sidekicks. They live together in a Turtle Cave beneath Wayne Tower, and try to protect the city from The Laughing Man and his Smile Clan. (Some of the amalgamations work better than the others; Killer Croc dresses like Beop and Clayface has a rhinoceros head; Deadshot and Harley Quinn are also The Laughing Man's lieutenants, but I can't tell if they are mixed with IDW characters or are just given more ninja-like redesigns. Similarly, Splinter dresses in an Alfred-like suit and says in one line that he acted as Bruce's "servant," but it's pretty clear from everything else that he's been Bruce's father figure and sensei.)

Our heroes' world is shattered when a Kevin Eastman-drawn, black-and-white Raphael appears in the Turtle Cave and explains that Krang has captured the original, Mirage Turtles and Golden Age Batman from the "progenitor worlds," and then combined these Earths together in order to confuse and weaken the heroes, helping him conquer two multiverses (Sadly, we don't see any Turtles or Batmen from any of these other worlds, although I suppose Turtles Forever revealed a multiverse of Turtles briefly, and comics like Scooby-Doo Team-Up #50 and Superman: Man of Steel #37 have given us stories with views of multiple Batmen sharing panel-space).

From there, the series is mostly a race for the good guys to find and reawaken the characters from their respective worlds, their presence usually being enough to remind Alfred or April O'Neil or Casey Jones how things are supposed to be. By the climax, eight ninja Turtles, two Batmen and the extended Batfamily of sidekicks attack Krang and blow-up his Crisis Tower to separate the Earths and save the multiverses.

It's not great, but it's far less disappointing than the last two, and Tynion's script seems like it was just maybe one more draft away from being a really solid story. What I as a long-time fan of each half of the crossover most appreciated was, of course, finally seeing someone other than just Williams contributing to the art of the crossover/s, and who better than TMNT co-creator Eastman? At first, I assumed he was drawing his characters directly on to the pages where Williams left him space for them, but as the story progressed, it seemed to me that Eastman's art was almost too 1980s to be the work of the current Eastman, and while the hows of the collaboration are never explained (the credits just read "Art by Freddie Williams II with Keven Eastman"), it appears that Williams must have penciled or at least roughed the Mirage Turtles onto the pages, and Eastman then inked or finished them. There is, however, a significant passage in the second issue in which "Progenitor" Raphael tells the Turtles and Batman the TMNT origin from his world, in which we get to see Eastman drawing whole pages, and, interestingly, re-drawing parts of the original TMNT origin.

Outside of that, though, I was pretty impressed that Eastman's artwork so evoked the work of Eastman and Laird, right down to repeating poses from the original comics, and now I am thinking that's because Williams was playing the Laird role. Anyway, those scenes were all fun, and well worth reading this for alone. At least, they certainly were for a certain kind of fan (One like me, for instance).

I think Tynion is much more ambitious here than he was in the previous two meetings of the franchises, and his story about Batman/Bruce Wayne growing up with a family/brothers vs. alone provides an interesting emotional throughline, particularly at the end, when he remembers he eventually did make his own family (here it's Nightwing, Red Hood, Red Robin, Robin and Batgirl). I think I would have liked to see a greater exploration of some of the It's A Wonderful Life-like aspects of the story, an I definitely would have preferred Tynion and Williams working out some of the kinks of the amalgamation, but this was their best one yet.

I hope it's truly the conclusion of their work on what is now a joint franchise (seeing as how there's also the fourth, IDW-produced crossover in the form of the 2016 Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures and a direct-to-DVD animated movie), but not the end of the Batman/TMNT team-ups and meet-ups. I still want to see more Mirage-era artists and  IDW TMNT artists (No one more than Jim Lawson, Michael Dooney, Greg Zulli and, of course, Sophie Campbell!) get to draw something with Batman in it, and some artists known for Batman drawing ninja turtles (no one more so than Kelley Jones, of course***,but I certainly wouldn't say no to Jose Fornes or a Nick Derington ninja turtle, for example, especially given how good the fight scenes in Batman Universe turned out to be).

At this point, I think what I really want is a Legends of The Dark Knight/Tales of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Tuttles mash-up...or maybe something closer to a Batman Black and White/Turtle Soup mash-up, with shorter stories by a wider, weirder variety of contributors. Not sure what one would call such a book, though; Legends and Tales of The Dark Knight and the Teenage Mutant Nina Turtles...?

Anyway, the best gag of the series? The replacement of the Batcave's T-Rex with Peter Laird's favorite dinosaur, the triceratops in the "Turtle Cave"...

Transformers Vs. Terminator #1 (IDW Publishing) It's interesting to observe how these two concepts, which almost no one would have ever even conceived of interacting with one another when they debuted in 1984, what with one being an R-rated sci-fi/action/horror movie and the other a children's toy-line promoted by an after school cartoon series and comic book tie-in, have gradually met in the middle over the course of the ensuing decades. The Terminator eventually becoming a multi-media franchise akin to Transformers, its films' rating quickly softening to a PG-13 to allow for a wider audience, while Transformers eventually became a violent, special-effects heavy, live-action film franchise for the similarly broad PG-13 audience. 36 years later, they are both just long-lived franchises involving robots, appealing to roughly the same adults nostalgic for the pop culture of their youth.

So sure: Transformers Vs. Terminator. Why not?

It took three writers to come up with the storylineDavid Mariotte, Tom Waltz and John Barberalthough only Mariotte and Barber are credited with the script. That might have sounded somewhat snide, but I honestly didn't mean it as such; when my eyes fell upon the title for the first time, I honestly couldn't even imagine what such a crossover might entail and, in that respect, this seemed a somewhat crazier crossover than, say, Archie Vs. Predator, as, aside from the fact that they started in 1984 and consisted of robots, I couldn't imagine how the rather straightforward storyline of the original Terminator film (made mind-bogglingly complicated by time travel paradoxes and reboots) would or could co-exist with the huge cast and more complicated storyline of the Transformers (Although, now that I'm typing these words and thinking about it, I guess both the Terminator robots and the Transformers are robots that specialize in infiltration, the former as people and the latter as the vehicles that people tend to get around in).

So that Mariotte and company came up with something at all impresses me. And that it turned out pretty good? All the better.

It opens in the Los Angeles of 2029, in which a guy that artist Alex Milne draws to look at least vaguely like a young Arnold Schwarzenegger is running through the streets, littered with the corpses of Autobots in car and robot forms. He reaches a Terminator base, where they send him back in time, just as Starscream, his jet bros and the Insecticons find and attack them; it at least appears that Skynet and the Terminators are here the good guys, and the Transformers (or at least the Decepticons) are the bad guys, which in and of itself is an interesting enough inversion, although I suppose as the series progresses that we'll find that there are good Transformers as well as bad ones, and that perhaps Team Terminator is still very much anti-human, even if in this first issue they are the home team killer robots, defending Earth from other, alien killer robots.

The nude T800 manages to travel back to 1984 just as the Decepticons close in, and there he rescues waitress Sarah Connor and force her to guide him to Mt St. Helens in a semi-truck he stole. It's color scheme is, perhaps unsurprisingly, red, blue and gray. His plan, he reveals to Sarah as the first issue reaches its end, is to protect the most important life form on Earth from the "machine invaders": Skynet. On the final page, a splash page, he walks in to find a smirking Megatron holding his arm cannon over a badly damaged, perhaps dead Optimus Prime, while Starscream, Soundwave, Thundercracker and I want to say some of the component robots of Reflector stand around them.

Were I forced to guess, I would guess that this Terminator is going to team up with Optimus and Sarah to defeat these Decepticons, but, at the very least, there seems to be four different parties involved in the suggested conflict (The Terminators, The Autobots, The Decepticons and the humans), so it's actually refreshingly up-in-the-air as to what exactly might happen in the ensuing issues.

I'll probably check back in with this in trade, should I forgot to read the rest of the series on Hoopla, but this first issue certainly did what a first issue should do. It made me curious about the second issue.


Second Coming (Ahoy Comics) It probably won't shock you to learn that writer Mark Russell's "controversial" one-time Vertigo series isn't actually all that controversial, and it's theology, reading of history and morality and jokes are pretty well within the realm of the expected, the book more or less conforming exactly to the "The Odd Couple, but with Jesus and Superman" premise that artist Richard Pace's above cover suggests. I reviewed it for The Comics Journal here. It is an extremely interesting comic book, and one that rewards reading and thinking about, but it's hardly anything blasphemous...or even all that daring, to be honest. Honestly, I thought Geoff Johns' climax to his Blackest Night/Brightest Day story, which suggested Jesus was a big, weird, alien Pokemon "life" avatar related to Parallax and the other god-like beings that powered each of his variously colored Lantern corps was a more provocative take on the Jesus story, but I suppose that flew under the radar of the sort of Christians that don't like to see Jesus appear in pop culture. (Oh, I recently read the second half of J.M. DeMatteis' Spectre series, the one starring Hal Jordan...? Now that has a weird view of Christianity and Christ, but I don't remember anyone freaking out about that...! Anyway, read my review. And then read Second Coming. It's fine. I think I would have liked it more as prose, though; I think Russell's take on Superman is funnier in prose.

Star Wars Adventures: Return To Vader's Castle (IDW Publishing) In the previous series, writer Cavan Scott and artist Kelley Jones did a story in which Count Dooku, played in the films by Christopher Lee, who earlier in his life played Dracula, is transformed into a space vampire. In this series, Scott and Jones re-team for a story in which Grand Moff Tarkin, played by Peter Cushing, who had previously played Victor Frankenstein, is responsible for the creation of a patchwork Frankenstein's monster created from the limbs of various alien species. So yeah, this is another good one. I was a little disappointed that Derek Charm, who drew the previous series' framing sequences here just contribute the above (excellent) cover, but not too disappointed; replacing him on the framing sequences here is Francesco fucking Francavilla.

Zatanna and The House of Secrets (DC Comics) I wasn't so sure about this comic, based on Zatara's facial hair, but, it turns out, it's not only pretty great, but it even stands out among the other pretty great DC ogns for young readers as a particularly great one. Full review here.

*Although I should probably note that outside of The Fox comics, I don't think any of Archie's halting steps to relaunch their various superhero characters have been very good comics.

**Seriously, Predator Vs. Archie, Predator Vs. Jughead, Archie Vs. Jughead's Pal Hot Dog, Predator Vs. Betty and Veronica, Predator Vs. Archie's Rival Reggie, Predator Vs. Josie and The Pussycats, Predator Vs. Josie and The Pussycats in Outer Space, Predator Vs. Katy Keene,  Predator Vs. Sabrina, The Teenage Witch, Predator Vs. Li'l Jinx...bring them all on! I can take it!

***I mean, I guess that's something I could/should try to get a commission of at tome point.

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