Friday, January 17, 2020

A Month of Wednesdays: November 2019



BOUGHT:


Batman and The Justice League Vol. 3 (DC Comics) Shiori Teshirogi introduces still more DC heroes and villains into her narrative, which is essentially a manga version of The New 52 Justice League squaring off against her own, more idiosyncratically designed versions of their archenemies over control of Earth's ley lines. The lines are already being controlled by members of a particular Japanese family who have come to Gotham, one of whom wears an oni mask and has aligned himself with Lex Luthor and his still-forming Injustice League, while the others are currently at Wayne Manor under Batman and Alfred's care.

As this volume opens, Aquaman and Ocean Master/Orm have resolved their differences and they then join Superman and Batman in saving the city from a tidal wave, the eight-headed giant serpent monster the ley line energy has taken the form of and the mysterious bad guy in the oni mask. Green Lantern Hal Jordan, Sinestro and Reverse-Flash all make their first appearances within the story line in this volume.

Hal, who Shiori Teshirogi draws extremely young-looking and with a longish mop of hair, actually looks more like Kyle Rayner, particularly in the interiors, where one can't actually see what color his hair is (His costume design is also tweaked a bit, so here he has a huge lantern badge chest symbol and green and black leggings rather than the standard all-black ones). While the extent of his imagination seems limited to military hardware, at least based on the ring constructs he summons, Teshirogi does a neat job of making them look like things inspired by military hardware, rather than actual military hardware. That is, Hal doesn't just shoot missiles or make guns appear that he then shoots. He summons an array of over-sized cannons, missile-launchers, gun nozzles and suchlike to focus barrages of lasers and suchlike. At one point, when he's perched like Peter Pan atop Wayne Manor, waiting for "a friend" (presumably The Flash) to show up, he summons little, toy-sized projections of helicopters and jets to amuse himself.
Sinestro looks a bit closer to his regular DC Comics self, and he appears in his Sinestro Corps uniform, which is also slightly tweaked (He too has a an enormous chest-symbol, the larger symbols apparently being a flourish common in all of Teshirogi's designs; note the black-and-white lightning icon on her Reverse Flash on the cover above, for another example). He has a stiff, military air about him, and carries a lantern in which Parallax resides. His ring, like Hal's ring, is much more ornate than it typically looks in other comics, here resembling something of a cross between detailed jewelry and some sort of electronics.

The Flash that actually shows up at Wayne Manor is the reverse one, and, following the climax of the battle on the Gotham shoreline, the biggest action sequence in this volume is a Green Lantern/Reverse-Flash fight. Hal gets hit on the head really hard repeatedly, which is always fun to see, and, after Hal realizes how fast Reverse-Flash actually is and is getting beat up for a bit, there's an interesting sequence where the pair trade advantages, using their superpowers in interesting ways against one another. I mean, it's very basic superhero fighting, but of a kind that seems too-rare these days, as "action" in superhero comics, particular featuring these characters, is little more than static posing.

While the plot involving the Sayuri family moves forward, and a connection to the Wayne family a generation prior is revealed, there's also a scene in which Luthor, now suited up in his super-armor, introduces Sinestro to the rest of his Injustice League: The Joker, Reverse-Flash, Ares and Cyborg Superman. Ares looks more-or-less like the George Perez design, and Cyborg Superman looks more-or-less like he did upon his original introduction. I guess the latter is being used as the evil opposite of Cyborg, who we've only seen a few brief glimpses of so far, as every other member of the Justice League has an archenemy present.

I continue to be fascinated with the ways in which Teshirogi honors the New 52 version of the League and the particular departures she makes, not simply in designs or details, but also in more out-of-the-ordinary things, like Batman pulling out a big-ass survivalist-looking knife to fight the masked villain at one point (as opposed to, say, a batarang or a bat-shaped blade) or Wonder Woman referring to Sinestro with some alarm as "The Yellow Lantern." Some of the action is unfortunately a bit hard to parse, particularly at the beginning, which I think has a lot to do with the way the ley lines are portrayed, as serpentine dragons covered in scales, but made of energy rather than matter, so the panels are filled with insubstantial bands of scale patterns. As the characters fight on and against these energy dragon things in the midst of the sea and bits of rubble, it's kind of hard to get a sense of place in that particular battle.

Later, when Green Lantern and Reverse-Flash fight, there are lots of beams, lightning and blasts of energy but, because it's black and white, it's a little more difficult than it might usually be to "read" certain panels. I think the black-and-white art is both a benefit and a detriment of the book. We're so used to seeing these characters in color that it can be easy to take for granted how much work the color does, particularly for characters like Green Lantern, Sinestro and The Flashes, whose powers are always demonstrated as much by coloring as they are by line work.

That means it can be a little harder than it might otherwise be for Western eyes used to these characters in their home comics to adjust to reading them in such a different way, but it's also refreshing to see characters defined by primary colors now appearing in various shades of gray. Aside from Batman, who has appeared so often in black and white, I don't think I've ever seen any of these characters in black and white comics for more than a panel or two here and there.


DC Super Hero Girls Giant #1 (DC) I'm not entirely sure if this was released in November or October, but I bought it in November, so in the column it goes. DC's new-ish Giant format, now available in comics shops and not just Walmarts, is a welcome one for giving to the comics-curious or the casual comics readers, as $4.99 is a good price point for a large chunk of content, particularly if the audience isn't particular about whether that content is brand-new or if it has been previously published elsewhere (because no matter which, it's new to them). That's why I picked this one up the last time I was in a comics shop; I've yet to read any comics featuring the new, redesigned and revamped version of DC's Super Hero Girls, so I was a bit curious about how the franchise might have changed, and my school teacher sister's third-graders should enjoy it when I'm done, as they've enjoyed past DC Super Hero Girls OGNs I've passed on after I've reviewed them for Good Comics For Kids. (I may have mentioned before that it's somewhat unfortunate that the various giants aren't more kid-focused; so far, this and the Scooby-Doo giant are the only ones I've felt safe passing on. Teen Titans Go is safe too, of course, but an acquired taste. All of the other giants contain comics pulled out of titles targeted toward adults.)

There are five stories in this book; two original (or "All New!" as the table of contents declares) ones featuring the new version of the DC Super Hero Girls, and three reprints, each of which is the opening chapter of a past OGN by writer Shea Fontana and artist Yancey Labat. They're from Hits and Myths, Summer Olympus and Past Times at Super Hero High.

The new stories are "Panicked at the Disco" by Amanda Deibert and Erich Owen and "Fall Festival" by Amy Wolfram and Agnes Garbowska. From what I can glean from these, the titular Super Hero Girls now consist of redesigned versions of Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Batgirl and Bumblebee, all of whom look rather drastically different than they did before (and it's easy to compare and contrast their earlier Super Hero Girls designs in this comic, containing as it does comics from both sides of the dividing line between designs), and they're now joined by Zatanna and Jessica Cruz, the newest Earthling Green Lantern (Although I suppose the new GL introduced in Far Sector is the newest one, if that book is in DCU continuity).

In addition to their looks, their personalities seem to have changed quite a bit, too...or, at least, some of them have. Wonder Woman is very much an outsider here and seems new to Man's World culture, talking a little bit like the Starfire of the old Super Hero Girls (and the Teen Titans cartoons), but less comically so. Bumblebee is now quiet and shy, personality traits that would seem more appropriate for Jessica, whose DCU self suffers from an anxiety disorder. Instead, Jessica's trait here seems to be activism, which is played as a not particularly funny joke that kinda trivializes youth activism (In the first story, Supergirl is eating meatballs by the fistful at a school dance, while Jessica stands next to her with a sign reading "Keep Your Meatballs Out Of My Dance Halls!" and, in the second, she holds a sign reading "Corn Is A-Mazing" next to a corn maze and says "I'm protesting the artificial formation of the corn into rows rather than letting it grow wild and free!").

I like the overall character designs better, as there is a greater variety of shapes and styles to the characters now, as opposed to the more uniform, generically, stereotypical girl-toy versions of the earlier iteration, and in each of the cases in which the characters appeared in both versions, the new ones look more like superheroes, their costumes more closely echoing those of their DCU costumes.

I'm less sure about the new milieu, however. Previously, they all attended a special high school for superheroes in Metropolis, but now these half-dozen friends seem to be the only superheroes in a regular school, with non-super classmates, non-super teachers and a regular old curriculum. The only male characters are Steve Trevor, who now attends a military school rather than working at the local coffee shop, and a kid in a red shirt and blue shorts whose name happens to be "Garth," but doesn't seem to be that Garth.

Livewire and Harley Quinn both show up, and they are both straightforward villains, and are similarly dressed more like their DCU counterparts. (Livewire looks particularly cool, sporting a blue mohawk and KISS-esque spiky-soled boots; I think this might be my favorite Livewire design).

In the first story, Zatanna organizes a school dance, which seems to be going more or less okay until Livewire appears, kicks Barbra Gordon out of the DJ booth and forces everyone to dance against their wills using a special frequency (Props to Owen, who draws an action scene in which every background character is flossing at the same time).

In the second, the girls are all engaged in various forms of fall fun at a fall festival until Harley Quinn starts raining pumpkins down on them from a pumpkin launcher; Pamela Isley appears briefly as a plant-powered classmate, and she resembles a Margaret Keane moppet with a sea of face-obscuring red hair. Some of the other girls suggest DCU characters, but I'm not sure if they're official versions or not.

Wolfram and Labat have an OGN featuring the new iteration of the characters, DC Super Hero Girls: At Metropolis High, which I imagine offers a more thorough introduction, but, as a taste, the new stories in this giant seemed sufficient.


Justice League #35 (DC) Artist Francis Manapul joins writers Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV for part six of "Justice/Doom War", in which the various heroic characters take a deep breath and take stock of what just occurred in the previous chapters, as their plans to stop Perpetua and Luthor fell short. Manapul draws the JSA, Kamandi and the dialogue-less Legion-A crowded into the Hall of Justice with some Titans, and the doom sigil appears in the sky, where it is seen by everyone on Earth...on every Earth, apparently.

There's a three-page sequence in which each panel is devoted to a dozen different locations, the various characters all looking up to the sigil and reacting. It's mostly just a round-up of DC heroes from different parts of the world for two pages, followed by characters from outer space and different dimensions. The most interesting bits, to me, were Tanzania, where Manapul draws Catman Thomas Blake hanging out with a pride of lions...and wearing his pre-Flashpoint Catman costume, with the cape and claw mark symbol on the chest, and Earth-3, where a medium-shot of a/the Crime Syndicate of America (so they are all back on Earth-3 again?) seems to include a new version or at least a new design for Johnny Quick.

From there the action shifts to "Earth-19," which is apparently what they are calling the alternate Earth that Brian Augustyn, Mike Migonla and P. Craig Russell's seminal, Elseworlds line-spawning 1989 Gotham By Gaslight occurred on. Perpetualdestroys that particular Earth. Take that, 19th century, Mignola-designed Batman!

It's...fine. It's the same comic as it's been for over 30 issues now. Only the art ever changes. And Manapul is a good artist.


Justice League #36 (DC) It's "Justice/Doom War" part seven! This story arc will never end! And, considering this "arc" is really just the climax to Snyder's (and occasionally Tynion's) series-long Justice vs. Doom arc, this is more like part 36 than part seven. Tynion is gone, but now Howard Porter has returned to draw the four pages that Manapul doesn't.

There are two big events in this chapter. First, the Trinity gathering all of the heroes of the modern DCU that Manapul cares to draw (as well as the visitors from other time periods) to give them another inspirational speech about their new plan. Second, there's the inevitable betrayal among the villain team-up.

Regarding the former, the new plan seems to be to forget about winning, but instead to show the rest of humanity that the League plans to go down fighting for them, in the hopes of inspiring them, and thus tilting the scales of reality away from "Doom" and back towards "Justice." Regarding the latter, the wrinkle here is that none of the individual villains decide to turn on Luthor or their peers (like The Joker and Black Manta had previously), nor does Luthor decide to actively betray them, but rather Perpetua turns Brainiac into a giant chair and then puts the others in stasis tubes to suck out their powers/gathered energies and then funnel them into Luthor. Luthor, then, betrays them more passively, by failing to intercede on their behalf when Perpetua betrays them (J'onn, who is bonded with Luthor at the moment, starts speaking directly to him as a Jiminy Cricket, so I won't be too surprised if this turns out to be a pivotal moment).

Then Luthor flies Legion of Doom headquarters toward the Hall of Justice, ahead of an army of orcs that Perpetua pulled out of cosmic wherever. Batman prepares to meet Luthor, revealing that the Hall can also fly...?

I guess these would both make for pretty cool playsets in a toy line...


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #99 (IDW Publishing) I added IDW's long-running fifth volume of TMNT to my pull-list in anticipation of Sophie Campbell's arrival on the book. That, and with the recent cancellation of Scooby-Doo Team-Up and the impending end of the current creative team's run on Justice League, I'm dangerously close to not reading any ongoing serial comics. Sophie Campbell drawing ninja turtles seems like as safe a bet as any.

Despite my affection for, even devotion to, the original Mirage Studios TMNT comics, and my persistent interest in and curiosity about other comics iterations of those characters, I gave up on this volume a long time ago...with the tenth trade paperback collection. That seems like a hell of a lot of a comics run, particularly these days, but I see they are up to at least 22 collections, and that's just of the main series. Like so many of the other IDW comic book adaptations of toy and media franchises from my youth that I should like and that I kind of want to read, TMNT has birthed so many spin-offs miniseries that I feel pretty lost. (That said, there was a whole bunch I didn't like about what I was reading, and I was put off almost immediately by the strange origin involving past-lives).

I've checked in now and then, mainly for crossovers that interested me or Campbell or Eastman showing up to draw something, but, hoo boy, this penultimate issue of the current creative team sure did demonstrate how much there is.

I recognized the names of many of the characters from past comics and cartoonsone thing this book hasn't been shy about was incorporating Turtles characters from every previous narrative iteration, and remixing them to suit the book's purposesand the story itself takes its name from the climactic, year-long story of Eastman and Peter Laird's first volume of the TMNT comic (11 of the 12 issues of which were drawn by Jim Lawson, rather than Eastman and Laird, who shared a story credit for the rest of the "City At War" arc). Hell, even Eastman's cover for this issue recalls the Splinter sub-plot from the arc, in which a badly injured Splinter was being taunted by "The Rat King."

So, what have we here? A $7.99, 42-page comic that resembles a thin trade paperback (no ads, a spine, thicker cover stock) with a story very much in progress. A mutagen bomb has gone off in New York City. Raphael, Old Hob, Alopex and this comics' version of Archie Comics' Mighty Mutanimals are on the scene, where they are fighting "The Earth Protection Forces" lead by a cyborg named Bishop, Hun from the second, millennial TMNT cartoon who in this comic is also Casey Jones' father, and the Slash clones they control. There's also a character I don't recognize, in some kinda ninja battle suit, who appears to be one of the good guys.

Meanwhile, the other three turtles are trying to stop a new, huge version of robot turtle Metalhead from the original cartoon and toy line (not to be confused with Metal Head), who looks like he's in a half-built Terrordome, working on a teleporter and terrorizing some scientists.
Android superhero-turned-comic shop employee Metal Head battles Dr. Dome's Domeoids in the pages of Peter Laird and Jim Lawson's 1988 TMNT #15.
Meanwhile, Splinter is trapped in a small dark room by the Foot Clan, engaged in conversation with this book's version of The Rat King, the character from the original cartoon based in part on a character from the Mirage Tales of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic, who appears to be magical in nature, rather than a hallucination.

Then Leonard, Michelangelo and Donatello show up there, with the EPF hot on their heels. They fight The Foot Clan, which is currently lead by Karai (introduced in the original, Mirage "City At War" arc, but who has since become a fixture of TMNT stories, appearing in the 2006 film and the previous cartoon series, i.e. the best one, before the current Rise of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles one, and throughout this comic book series). They have a bunch of mutant warriors of their own, including the original cartoon's Rocksteady and Bebop, a raptor mutant I half-remember from one of the Campbell-drawn comics I read, and a hammerhead shark character I've never seen before. Other characters join this big, three-way battle, including Casey Jones and the new, fifth female ninja turtle.

And, finally, a mystical character in a fox mask named Kitsune appears to be about to resurrect The Shredder on the last page, who I assume is dead, because one of IDW's many TMNT spin-off comics was called Shredder In Hell.

I was consistently lost throughout, maybe more so because I am familiar with about half of these characters from other comics/cartoons/films, and I kept finding myself pausing to "find" them in my scrambled memory banks and then trying to remember how they fit in here, or if I knew these versions of them or not.

I guess the scope of the story and the huge cast suggests that writer Tom Waltz, who shares a story credit with Eastman and editor Bobby Curnow, has been building to this particular story point for a long, long timemaybe even for 99 issueswhich is likely more rewarding than alienating to the bulk of the readership.

Dave Wachter's art is fine, but didn't do much for me. His mutants and non-human characters are far more engaging than his humans (the Slash clones look cool and monstrous, and his Rat King is quite well-drawn; I also liked the way his Splinter resembled that of A.C. Farley and Michael Zulli, rather than the more familiar pupil-less version of Eastman, which appears on the cover).

Action-wise, I didn't think the artwork was particularly strong, though, which was unfortunate, given how much of the issue is devoted to fighting.

So...I don't know? I'm still looking forward to #101, and I hope that if it's not going to be a clean start of the sort a new, sixth volume might offer, as I doubt it will be, than I at least hope it is written with new readers in mind, because I'm not entirely sure I'll be able to make sense of too many issues as full of characters and long-running plots as this.


Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol. 11: Tell Your Squirrelfriend (Marvel Comics) Yeah, I know this came out prior to this month but, man, it has proven surprisingly difficult for me tom find a comic shop that either remembers to order Squirrel Girl collections when I ask for them or stocks them regularly, in the event that they forgot to order one for me. (Generally when that happens, I just buy a copy of the trade I want from my local Barnes and Noble which is, I kid you not, mere yards from my apartment, but, in this particular case, my Barnes and Noble didn't have this particular volume in stock either).

This volume contains two distinct stories. The first is Unbeatable Squirrel Girl's fiftieth issuenot issue #50, but the fiftieth issue that was published, #42 ("It's complicated," as the cover states; this book has consistently been refreshingly upfront about Marvel's numbering shenanigans). For a milestone issue, it features the ideal villain, Kang The Conqueror, who puts Squirrel Girl's unbeatability to the test. She does triumph, but she does so by outnumbering him, as the climax involves three different versions of Doreen fighting Kang: the current Doreen, the Old Lady Doreen from a previous arc and a 10-year-old Doreen from the past (and Monkey Joe!).

For this issue, writer Ryan North and regular artist Derek Charm are joined by Naomi Franquiz, drawing the future sequence featuring Old Lady Doreen, and, appropriately enough, original Squirrel Girl artist Erica Henderson draws the sequence set in the past. Charm, of course, handles the sequence featuring the present Squirrel Girl.

Franquiz is a particularly good fit for the book, as I was actually reading it for a few pages before I realized it wasn't Charm; her Kang has a Charm-ish-ness about him, although, a few pages later when we see Charm's Kang, it's clear how different their Kangs are. Franquiz draws the best Kang, with a comically wide head. (Henderson's Kang is pretty good too, though, particularly the expressions she draws on his face when he delivers lines).
Franquiz's Kang.
The rest of the collection is devoted to a "War of The Realms" tie-in, the title's first tie-in to one of Marvel's big event crossovers (believe it or not). The arc makes a pretty good argument for Unbeatable Squirrel Girl participation in such events, though (well, I don't think Doreen would have fit into Civil War II at all, given that she would have solved the whole dilemma in a few minutes). She and Team Squirrel Girl are visiting Allene in the Negative Zone, when Squirrel Girl gets teleported into the middle of the big battle in New York City in the opening issues of War of The Realms, separating Doreen from her supporting cast and more or less just throwing her into the middle of the craziness: There's a great splash page of superheroes and fantasy monsters in battle, while Doreen takes it in and pronounces "What."

Her connections to a couple of Asgardians makes this a particularly fitting crossover for her book to participate in, as she and Loki have hung out in a couple of story arcs (and Loki admires Doreen's friend Nancy), and one of Squirrel Girl's earlier and bigger villains was Ratatoskr, North and Henderson's version of Norse mythology's World Tree squirrel, here a shape-shifting god of chaos.

Squirrel Girl's mission in the superheroes' defense of Midgard is to head up to Canada to infiltrate and somehow take out the Frost Giants' base of operations. There she meets and teams-up with Ratatoskr, who takes on a human form ("stone-cold fox" Rachel Oskar), and they try to do the impossible: Defeat an army of Frost Giants. In typical Squirrel Girl fashion, they ultimately succeed, and they do so with a minimum of violence, but, before Squirrel Girl can convince the Frost Giants to leave Midgard alone and head back to Jotunheim, she first has to convince Ratatoskr/Rachel to become a better person shape-changing squirrel god of chaos.

As always, each issue/chapter is densely packed with content, much of it in the form of jokes, and it's packed to the extent that the average issue of Unbeatable Squirrel Girl can take a careful reader as long to read as entire collections as certain other Brand X trade paperback collections. Those jokes range widely in terms of type, style and effectiveness, but I really applaud the degree to which North goes for it when it comes to frost-related humor here.

There are, of course, the more obvious frost jokes, but there's also also a couple of completely unexpected ones. His contribution to Marvel frost giant lore, for example, is that they are really, really into frost, and will discuss it at great length, no matter how tedious the conversation might be to non-frost giants hanging out with them.
There's a similarly unexpected literary frost joke, which takes up a remarkably high page count, and it actually works out nicely as it gives space for Squirrel Girl's state of mind to be illustrated effectively.

Some of my favorite gags were simply little details that Charm draws into the art as, for example, when Doreen and Rachel lift what looks like a giant book up to a pair of frost giants, and one of the giants seems to have slipped on a pair of reading glasses unseen, or Charm's scenes from the superhero vs. the bad guys battle in New York, particularly Spidey's bizarre giant-fighting strategy ("It was worth a tryyyyyy"). That is a visual gag that would have taken up at least a splash page in some books, but here it's just a neat bit of background tomfoolery, a reward for close reading.

That's one of the things I so love about this book. It's got layers, all of the layers are good, and most of them are funny. (The ones that aren't? They are emotional).

Ratatoskr, who is, of course, a shape-shifter, is a really great character for a comic book, and Charm gives her such a manic, dynamic look and feel that she is practically animated on the pages. Her "Rachel" form resembles an attractive woman version of her giant monster squirrel form and, later, when she must turn into a whale, that too resembles her other forms. That aspect of the character, the ability to turn into anything but also to kinda sorta resemble herself in each form, reminded me of Plastic Man, which of course made me realize what a great creative team North and Charm would be to tackle Plas. I mean, look what they've managed with Squirrel Girl, a canonical, in-universe superhero character whose adventures are at once funny and serious, the mode and tone of the book being a comedy, but one that can play superhero stuff completely straight and deliver compelling characterization. I mean, jeez, I can't imagine a better Plastic Man creative team...

So, no real surprises here: Unbeatable Squirrel Girl continues to be the best super-comic on the stands. Sadly, I know that I have but one more instance of sitting down to read a brand-new Unbeatable Squirrel Girl collection before me.


BORROWED:


Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 1: Mythology (DC Comics) Peter J. Tomasi arrives on Detective Comics as the new official, ongoing writer, following fill-in story arcs by writers Bryan Hill and James Robinson and a one-shot by Michael Moreci and Simon Fiurma. Before that, of course, James Tynion IV had a two-year, 50-ish issue run on the title, one that made me feel...awkward, to say the least, and which I was rather relieved to see finally end. Tomasi is here paired with pencil artist Doug Mahnke, but because of the accelerated publication schedule, Detective, like most modern Big Two super-comics, lacks a true creative team; while Tomasi will remain on 'Tec after the story arc collected herein, Mahnke will not. (Or, at least, he won't return immediately).

The pair arrive on the title with so much Batman experience, that they're both already quite adept at writing and drawing the characters. Tomasi, of course, has been writing Batman more-or-less continually for much of the last decade (having healthy-sized runs on Batman And Robin, Super Sons, Nightwing, as well as having written plenty of shorter stories featuring the character throughout the DC line), and Mahnke spent plenty of time with the character during his JLA run, as well as drawing occasional shorter stories and arcs featuring the character. So this is a "new" team on one of the primary Batman books for which Batman and friends are basically old hat.

It shows; there's zero learning curve on the part of the creators in evidence here and, as a reader, I didn't experience any of the growing accustomed to the new creators' particular takes that often accompany the start of new runs on old characters.

There is, in all honesty, something almost cheap about the ending of this six-issue, opening statement-style arc, but, to be fair, it was pretty obviously telegraphed that there would be such a reveal at the climax as early as the second chapter, when Dr. Leslie Thompkins is almost casually killed off, and done so without the fanfare readers have likely come to expect when a Batman supporting character is temporarily killed off.

Tomasi presents Batman with a strange, seemingly impossible mystery in the first pages of Mythology, setting up a list of victims that includes many of the people who helped raise or train Batman (not entirely unlike John Byrne, Jim Aparo and Mike DeCarlo's "The Many Deaths of The Batman" arc, in that respect), and a short list of suspects that nevertheless features the majority of the character's rogue's gallery, at least in passing (There's a visit to Arkham Asylum, to beat/interrogate inmates, and a bizarre monster that is an amalgamation of Batman villains, with the faces and heads of various characters pushing their way out of its torso, only to be replaced by others at a different time).

The result of this is not only does Tomasi re-cover Batman's originsnot just the tedious shooting of the Waynes and the artsy pearl motif, but also the rarer bits, like seeing some of the men who trained young Bruce Wayne, including some "new" mentorsand set-up the basic parameters of the Batman milieu, but it also (more importantly) gives Mahnke the opportunity to draw pretty much everyone and everything an artist could want to draw in a Batman comic...or everything a fan of Mahnke's would want to see him draw in a Batman comic, at least for a panel or two.
That impossible murder? It's the Waynes, found floating in a tank at the Gotham Aquarium (the setting of one of my favorite DC Comics stories, which was actually edited by Tomasi). Actually, not the Waynes, but victims chosen and made-up through plastic surgery and impeccable costuming to resemble them just as they were dressed on the night of their murder, right down to replica wedding rings and a facsimilie of the program for The Mark of Zorro. As Batman and Gordon are puzzling over those clues, a monster man of some sort attacks Dr. Thompkins, ultimately injecting her with a lethal does of Joker venom.
When Alfred is then stabbed by Zorro, Batman is certain that whoever is behind these attacks, they know he's Batman, and so he goes after Henri Ducard, who is himself attacked by the Rogue's Gallery monster. From there, Batman visits other mentors, one of whom, like Ducard, is an "old" one, Sensei Kirigi, others of whom are "new" ones, like escape artist Thaddeus Brown, the original Mister Miracle*, occultist Jason Blood and, most unusual of all, Dr. Silas Stone (Yeah, Cyborg's dad; weird, right?).

Batman, being the World's Greatest Detective, eventually solves the equation: Knows I'm Batman + Monster Men = Dr. Hugo Strange. But that turns out to be a red herring, leading to the weird-ass cliffhanger at the end of the penultimate chapter, Batman returning to the Batcave to confront the true mastermind...himself as a little boy, dressed in an ill-fitting Batman costume.
The resolution reminded me quite a bit of Scott Snyder's Batman-writing and, to a lesser extent, Snyder's occasional co-writer and Tomasi's predecessor on the title, Tynion's Batman-writing. Both have a tendency to insert pretty hard sci-fi elements and super-gadgetry into their Batman stories, often around the edges...a habit that Tomasi himself has, now that I think of it (Remember Batman journeying to Apokolips to retrieve the dead Damian's soul or whatever in order to resurrect his son, for example...?).

Basically, Batman has stuck himself in one of those weird machines he seems to occasionally invent for story purposes, and has been running an elaborate virtual reality sequence on himself in order to test himself, something he does every year on his birthday in order to make himself a better warrior against crime. It seems to have results, as he reveals to Alfred and Damian once he finally fights his way out of it, but he still has a long way to go in order to reach his goal, absolute perfection, wherein there will be a day when zero people are murdered in Gotham City.

Despite the "it was all a dream" reveal, which is here about as effective and as justified-by-the-story as such a plot element could be made to be, I thought this was a really strong story, demonstrating all of the elements of Batman's character and a rather broad swathe of his origins, allies, enemies and the types of stories he appears in.

(There are aspects I did not care for, of course. I've never felt comfortable with heroes beating helpless enemies, even if those enemies are terrible serial killers and terrorists, and I got infinitely less comfortable after our post-9/11 national conversation on the morality and efficacy of torture. Beating the hell out of Two-Face in order to stop him from killing someone is a lot different than sneaking into the cell of an incarcerated Two-Face, where he's supposedly healing and learning the error of his ways, and then beating him up in order to see if he knows anything about anything. Beating up physically weak characters like The Riddler or the diminutive Mad Hatter always feels wrong or off to me. My Batman, the one that exists in my head, wouldn't resort to that sort of thing, instead using his smarts and theatrics to either manipulate or scare information out of would-be informants. I mean, that's the whole point of dressing up as a bat, right? To be so scary you wouldn't need to try to torture information out of someone? That said, I understand the scene being in the story, as the current DC Comics Batman does do that sort of thing on the regular.)

Mahnke's art is, of course, as strong as always, and I was relieved he was able to pencil all six issues of the story. There are, as is often the case with Mahnke, too many inkersfour, in addition to himselfbut they are folks who have inked his pencils before, and the variances in style are mostly that of texture. With Mahnke managing to pencil the whole thing, there's no jarring changes in design in the story.

It was also fun to see him draw characters he's never drawn before, like the pre-Scott Free Mister Miracle, here presented as a wizened old man, his once robust beard and head of hair now long, gray, stringy and kinda Gandalf-y. As I mentioned in the footnote, I was really excited to see that guy turn up here, and I actually kinda hope we see him again in the future.


A Christmas Carol, Starring Scrooge McDuck (Dark Horse Books) Another in Dark Horse's line of reprints of European-published adaptations of classic literature starring Disney's Mickey Mouse or duck characters, this one had me longing for Fantagraphics' treatment of classic Disney comics more than usual.

That's because this one, scripted by Guido Martina and drawn by Jose Colomer Fonts, looks far older than the other, more recent books in the line, but there's no information in the book itself or on Dark Horse's website indicating where and when this is from, exactly.

Additionally, this story obviously casts Scrooge McDuck in Charles Dickens' Christmas Carol, which makes me curious of its relationship to the 1983 Mickey's Christmas Carol cartoon. It seems to predate both that and the 1974 audio performance that inspired the cartoon, not just in the style in which it was drawnat a glance, its linework and coloring both suggest the sort of Scrooge comic that might appear in one of Fanta's collections, rather than the more stylized art and sophisticated coloring in Disney Don Quixote or Disney Hamlet and the rest of the linebut also because of how much it differs from the familiar animated adaptation.

Scrooge McDuck is still the same Scrooge, but few other Disney characters actually appear within. Donald Duck, incongruously dressed in his standard sailor suit, still appears as Scrooge's nephew Donald and...that's about it. Daisy appears as Donald's wife, Gladstone Gander is at their Christmas luncheon, and John Rockerduck plays the Marley role of "Rock Marley," rather than Goofy. Bob Cratchit isn't played by Mickey, but is instead your standard Disney comics dog/human hybrid, as are the Three Ghosts of Christmas. Random dog-people and the occasional bird or pig person fill all the other roles in what I guess is therefore a more standard and straightforward adaptation of Dickens' novellawhich I have never actually readas there aren't any character-specific gags or jokes, beyond Scrooge being a miserable miser whose scared into changing his ways.

It's an effective and affecting story obviously, which is why it's been adapted ad nauseum, and there's nothing particularly poorly done with this particular adaptation, but there's nothing too terribly unique or special about it, either, and it seems to be such a strong departure from the normal formula of such media franchise riffs on a Christmas Carol that it feels a bit wanting, like something is missing.

It's okay, but just okay.

DCeased (DC) Not so much a story as a premise for one, this completely derivative mediocre superhero/horror mash-up was all the more disappointing because of the involvement of writer Tom Taylor, whose past body of work was strong enough to suggest he might be able to elevate a "Marvel Zombies, but at DC" miniseries into something more interesting.

Instead, the cleverness involved with the project pretty much stopped at the punning title.

Actually, comparing this to Marvel Zombies isn't quite fair. To Marvel Zombies. Not only did that concept originate far earlier15 years earlierbut, after Mark Millar introduced them into his Ultimate Fantastic Four run, Robert Kirkman and company exploited the twist of making the Marvels themselves all zombies, and retaining enough aspects of their personalities that the various iterations of the concept generally lead to more interesting takes than simply a zombie apocalypse set in a superhero shared universe. Which is what this is.

Geoff Johns and company's concept of the Black Lanterns from the Blackest Night crossover was probably a far better "DC zombies" project, as it went to such lengths to incorporate the tropes of zombie films into the DC-est bits of the DC Universe as possible. Taylor does eventually try to make the standard zombie apocalypse scenario playing out here into something more setting-specific, but not too terribly effectively.

The source of the plague is Apokolips, specifically Darkseid's long sought after "Anti-Life Equation", which, as Desaad explains it to the captive Cyborg, is "the end of all free will...for the one who controls it, it is the domination of all sentient races." Taking that particular concept of Jack Kirby's (Jesus, every popular superhero comics still goes back to Kirby, doesn't it?) and using it to the catalyst of a zombie apocalypse type of story makes a certain amount of sense.

Here, Darkseid has half of the equation, and goes to Earth to get Cyborg, who has the other half embedded in his body...somehow. Unfortunately, Cyborg's cyborg make-up means that utilizing the equation will kill him and destroy the equation, so Darkseid decides he needs to control Cyborg's death, and thus he summons The Black Racer, sticks a tube in The Racer, and then injects that into Cyborg. Still with me? The result is that a corrupted version of the Anti-Life Equation immediately infects Darkseid, who goes crazy and tries to rip open his own head to get it out, while going crazy. He leaps into a fire pit and destroys Apokolips, but not before Cyborg is sent back to earth to spread the now-digital infection.

The scene set on Apokolips was my favorite part of the first issue, which I had previously read, in large part because that seven-page sequence was drawn by James Harren, whose art was a bit more stylized and expressive than that of Trevor Harsine and Stefano Gaudiano, who draw the rest of the six-issue miniseries (a multi-artist spin-off one-shot, DCeased: A Good Day To Die #1, is also collected in here, somewhat awkwardly inserted between two issues of the main series).

It also struck me as odd at the time, though, as if a comic needs a fill-in artist in a miniseries, it suggests a production problem, and if a comic needs a fill-in artist on the first issue, it suggests a big production problem...that, or editors/publishers who don't care about comics in quite the same way I do, but for all the poor comics DC has published, I don't think it's the case that they don't care. Now that I've read the rest of the series, and see that Harren never once reappears, and that Hairsine and Gaudiano drew the rest of the book uninterrupted, I can't help but wonder if this scene was inserted at the last minute, and that perhaps there was a different explanation of the plague in a previous version of the story, one that made it to the point that it was already drawn, or, perhaps in zombie movie tradition, there was no explanation.

I suppose I'll never know, but I'm awfully curious. I think it was the right way to go, as at least attempting to tie "Anti-Life" with zombies at least gestures toward this being a DC Universe story, rather than just a zombie survival comic with DC IP in it. At one point, the zombies are actually referred to as "anti-lifers", but it's just once, and not until late in the book, after several issues have passed.

It's one of several instances in which things seem to happen too late in the game. For example, a particularly long-lived and popular DC comics character serves as narrator for the book, but the fact that she's the one narrating the book isn't revealed for several issues. It's not because it's a surpriseshe appears within the first issueit just seems like they forgot to mention it.

Later in the series, just as the Lex Luthor and the remaining heroes are devising a way to save humanity while holed up in the Fortress of Solitude, an infected Martian Manhunter appears and starts killing people...well over 100 pages into the story. Before that, there is no mention of J'onn, not even an appearance in the background of a panel (The book opens, by the way, with a version of the current Justice League and a few allies assembled before a defeated Darkseid; J'onn's not even there).
Although I suppose it's possible that J'onn is in that image, he's just invisible.
The Good Day To Die one-shot also throws in a bunch of characters that were mostly absent from the earlier chapter, with Mister Terrific, Booster Gold, Blue Beetle Ted Kord (in an appearance that, like Heroes In Crisis, seems to assume Flashpoint and The New 52 never happened), John Constantine, Doctor Fate, Fire and Ice and, weirdest of all, fucking Waverider, the character introduced in a 1991 crossover centering on events in the far-flung future of 2001, which is now 19 years ago!

Anyway, all of these characters basically just appear and disappear, having had no real impact on the story, other than making for a weird-ass interruption and allowing for some good artists to contribute a few pages here and there (Darick Robertson draws seven pages of Constantine, for example), although their presence is ultimately more distracting than beneficial to DCeased as a complete story (If I can conjecture more about the behind-the-scenes work that went into this book, it seems pretty obvious A Good Day To Die was commissioned after DC started to realize how popular the book actually was, and then had to be hurriedly drawn by multiple artists. Similarly, there's a spin-off miniseries now being released.)

But back to the plot. Cyborg lands in Metropolis, and accidentally starts broadcasting the Anti-Life Equation like a super-modem of death; anyone with a screen can be infected (Yes, like in Stephen King's Cell). Master-planner Batman is ready, but by the end of the first issue/chapter, he's taken down by infected Nightwing and Robin/Red Robin Tim Drake. It's a surprisingly dull scene, but then there's so much stuff that has to happen in six issues, there's not much room for fight scenes or action sequences...that, or Taylor and Hairsine aren't into that sort of thing.

From there, it's mostly a predictable-ish march through the zombie apocalypse, terminating with Lois Lane, Alfred, The Super Sons and Green Arrow flying on a space ark with a bunch of human survivors in search of Earth 2 (a reference to one of the original alternate Earths in Gardner Fox's conception of a DC Multiverse, naturally, and not a reference to the 90s TV show Earth 2, which this situation more directly mirrors).

Green Lantern Hal Jordan and Aquaman are turned, as are more and more heroes, who cause more and more damage. Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn defend Gotham, killing all the infected villains and remaining heroes and turning it into a semi-sentient jungle defended by Ivy's plant powers. Superman tries to rally the surviving heroes, first to Metropolis and then, when that's destroyed, to the Fortress of Solitude. An escape plan is hatched, in which Lex Luthor and the heroes will build arks to flee Earth with what remains of humanity.

There are some twists and turns, like Black Canary becoming Green Lantern immediately after killing Hal (I liked the suggestion that Earth, which has already given the Green Lantern Corps something like eight Lanterns, is so lousy with eligible candidates that the ring only had to fly a few feet to find someone with "the ability to overcome great fear"). Or Damian becoming a rather short Batman (in a version of his dad's costume, rather than the one he's usually depicted wearing in future stories where he becomes Batman, the one from Batman #666). When The Flash turns, it's up to Superman to try to stop a super-fast zombie, and he does...but doing so turns him (this scene is actually pretty dumb, as it shouldn't take anyone more than a few seconds to determine other ways in which Superman could use his powers to stop The Flash instead of flying through him at super-speed), and then it's up to Wonder Woman to go on a suicide mission to put down the zombified Superman, using a Kryptonite sword.

There are definitely bits I liked, most of them involving Green Arrow (As in Taylor's Injustice comics, which were similarly dark and violent and set in an discrete, out-of-continuity space, his GA is often the best part). For example, after Damian informs Ollie that Batman didn't have a takedown plan for him because he wasn't considered a big enough threat, Ollie pouts, "I could be a planetary threat if I wanted to."

And he doesn't let it go:
Otherwise, though? Too much of it felt too familiar. (Granted, a lot of that could be on me; I mean, maybe I've just read too many DC Comics at this point in my life.) Dinah succeeding Hal as a GL reminded me of Barbara Gordon succeeding Kyle Rayner in Fabian Nicieza and Kevin McGurie's Created Equal. Captain Atom detonates himself like a nuclear bomb as he did in Kingdom Come. Ivy uses her plant powers to create a sanctuary in Gotham City, as she did in "No Man's Land" and elsewhere. Luthor allies himself with the heroes as the world faces its darkest hour, combining his genius with their powers to try to save the day, as he did during Final Night and elsewhere. Superman goes bad, and the other heroes must combine their might to try to stop an evil Superman, as they have in...well, Jesus, I don't know, like 80 different comics now...?

The majority of the art, that by Hairsine and Gaudiano, is mostly fine, having a stately look and gravitas about it, and presented in the millennial "wide-screen" style that Bryan Hitch so often worked in, which seems appropriate: Their art has a similar too-realistic aesthetic to Hitch's.

There are surprisingly few moments of grand guignol imagerythe only one that comes to mind now is Cyborg using his arm cannon to punch a perfect hole through Giganta's head, and he makes a dramatic appearance framed within that holewhich is kind of surprising, given how goddam gory DC comics have been for so much of the 21st century, many of the publisher's most frequent contributors have plenty of experience drawing over-the-top gory images of DC's heroes dying and killing. One wonders what the boo might have been like if a stylist like Kelley Jones or Kyle Hotz or Guillem March had the assignment instead. This, finally, was a project where DC creators could really cut loose with the gore and violence and do it in an appropriate place for the appropriate audience, and yet it seemed awfully...reserved by DC standards.

Perhaps the worst thing about the book isn't its various weaknesses, though. Rather, it's how popular the book has proved, meaning DC has been rewarded for the mediocrity, which carries the danger of reinforcing the viability of mediocre super-comics.


Naomi: Season One (DC) First, let the record show that if you purchase this hardcover collection of Brian Michael Bendis, David F. Walker and Jamal Campbell's six-issue miniseries based solely on the cover, which depicts the title character standing alongside members of the newly reformed Young Justice and before members of the current Justice Leagues and sundry other DC heroes, you are going to be sorely disappointed. This is just a symbolic or thematic cover, depicting a new hero joining the ranks of the old ones; none of those characters actually appear within the 120 pages of comics that lie beneath the cover, with the exception of Superman, who makes a couple of brief visits to Naomi's small north pacific hometown, although he never interacts directly with her.

This is a rather odd superhero comic, and an incredibly disappointing one, which I say because I did rather want to like it (and given the strength of Bendis' DC work that I've read so far, my hopes were high), but Bendis and his co-writer Walker seem to have crafted a pitch for a comic book rather than an actual comic book story, and to have not even covered all of the basics that are usually included in the launch of a new superhero character. Like, for example, the character's name. Naomi is the name of the character before and after she learns of her own fantastical origins and that she has super-powers.

The first issue feels a lot like the product of the old, Marvel-ous Bendis. The opening page is a 12-panel grid, in which various teenage characters all talk directly to the "camera"/the reader, giving a variety of reactions to what they had just seen: Superman briefly touching down in their town while fighting Mongul. Most of these characters won't appear again, or, at least, not play any significant role in the rest of the book. Oddly enough, they are all speaking in letters that look like those from when Bendis and Mark Millar started writing for Marvel's "Utlimate" line; that is, they are not in all-caps.

That page of reactions is followed by a two-page splash of Superman and Mongul fighting, and then a spread filled by panels of characters talking back and forth in those tedious-looking Bendis chains of dialogue, wherein the dialogue balloons are strung like pearls.

Much of that issue first deals with the on-the-street reaction to Superman's appearance, and then his visit later to help clean up the mess he made. Meanwhile, we learn a little bit about Naomi. She was adopted, and is naturally curious about her real parents, as well as "super" stuff in general; not just because her small town is so far removed from Metropolis, Gotham City, New York City and the places the DCU's superhero stuff happens, but because she has this strange sense tgat the whole town is keeping some sort of secret.

While Naomi tries to find the truth from her parents and this one adult she is convinced knows somethingand who, for a reason I can't determine, Campbell draws in Hulk-like proportions, so that he stands somewhere between 8-10 feet tall, and has fists twice the size of Naomi's headshe eventually gets an answer. An answer that is just told to her.

First, the local mechanic, the guy who is randomly depicted as a giant, reveals that he is not her father and the picture of a black woman he has in his shop is not her mother, which was only an issue of suspense for, I don't know, the space of like, three pages in the collection, and I guess a month is you were reading serially. He is a Thanagarian deserter, though.

Then Naomi finds out her adopted father is a Rannian, with his own spaceship and Adam Strange-esque suit and ray gun, which he and her adopted mother have kept from her. He's not her father, either.

But the two one-time foes from alien races that have been posing as regular old Earthlings did meet late at night a long time ago, when a portal from another dimension opened up, a lady handed them baby Naomi, and then some other folks with ray guns jumped out of the portal and chased her. Her mom left her an info-dump stone, that tells the story of her home world across ten-pages, in dense blocks of narration and prose.

Then, in the sixth and final issue/chapter, the villain of her homeworld, the one she had just learned about from her backstory device, arrives. They fight, Naomi wins and the book ends.

And...that's it. Precious little of the story is actually told as a story. Instead, it is all people telling stories of stories to other characters. First the giant Thanagarian/auto mechanic, than her adopted parents, then Naomi to one of her friends, than her mother via the recording device. Imagine a Star Wars movie that was all crawl, and you've got a pretty good idea of what reading this feels like. It's a comic book re-telling other comic book stories, although those other comic book stories don't actually exist.

The book contains an afterwordas does Bendis' first Young Justice collection, below; I love forewords and afterwords in collections!in which Bendis explains the genesis of his collaboration with Walker, and where Naomi came from, and why this was important to them, and it just makes the fact that the book is so disappointing seem sad, and disappointment and sadness aren't exactly the sorts of emotions a reader should experience at the end of a graphic novel introducing a brand-new superhero to a superhero universe, a comic that ends with the young hero rocketing up into the sky enthusiastically.


Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge (Marvel Entertainment) If I understand this all correctly, this trade paperback collects a comic book series based on an amusement park attraction based on a movie franchise. These are the times we live in, I guess.  The five-issue miniseries is written by Ethan Sacks and drawn by Will Sliney, and is set around a particular shop in the Black Spire Outpost on the planet Batuu, primarily during the current time-frame of the "A Long Time Ago...", that is, during The Resistance vs. First Order war among the various star wars.

That shop is Dok-Ondar's Den of Antiquitiesnot to be confused with a den of iniquities, which is an entirely different sort of thing, but one imagines that sort of den would also be located somewhere in the outpostand its proprietor is a bearded Ithorian, which we used to call "a Hammerhead" back in my day (that is, the late-seventies and early eighties), although maybe we wouldn't have, because for all little kid Caleb knew, there was just the one of 'em. (I had that toy, too.) Anyway, there's an ongoing plot revolving around Dok's den, involving a trio of thieves who want to steal an ancient weapon from him and a group of First Order Storm Troopers.

The neat part of the series, however, is that the various stops into the shop allow for various story prompts, as a thief will see something like a little animal in a cage, or a Stormtropper will notice a light saber, and then Dok-Ondar can launch into a story about it, which in turn leads to a flashback to another era of the Star Wars mega-saga, generally featuring one of the better-known characters from one of the previous 10 films or cartoon or comic book spin-offs, like the tall, dark and handsome guy with the man-purse and the scoundrel in the vest on the cover.

In that respect, I suppose this is a pretty good "starter" comic book for a fan of the Star Wars films, who is either new to the comics or something of a casual reader, given that each issue sends the narrative rocketing back to more famous/familiar characters in the foundational stories that all the comics adaptations are based on. The "present" narrative, meanwhile, advances a plot that would seem to involve the amusement park setting and, eventually, ties elements of the shorter, flashback stories into its resolution, in ways big and small.

So the first issue has Han Solo and Chewbacca securing a juvenile Sarlacc for Dok (apparently, when they are babies they look like a raw Thanksgiving turkey with tentacles, and they can burrow super-fast just below the surface of the earth like Bugs Bunny). In the second, Greedo is on a mission for Jabba the Hutt to kidnap someone, but ends up bringing back only a consolation prize that is attached to a cameo by a prequel trilogy-era Jedi Master (but not a cool one). The third features Hondo (who I had to look up, as he was familiar but not Greedo-familiar; he was apparently introduced during the Clone Wars 3D animated cartoon series I never saw any of) visiting Jedha, the planet that got blowed up early in Rogue One, and encountering the coolest character in that film (your definition of "coolest" my differ from mine, but, in this particular context I can assure you, I am correct). And, in the next issue, Doctor Aphra and her evil versions of R2-D2 and C-3P0 from Marvel's Star Wars comics raid a tomb to recover a Sith weapon (Hey, have you ever seen a Sith hound before? I had not. They seem kinda cool, in a terrifying way).

In the concluding issue, some time is spent building Dok-Ondar up a bit, focusing on his team, and hopping around the nearby setting, presumably laying out the sights of the amusement park...although I understand there are novels that are also attached to the "Galaxy's Edge" setting, so I suppose this is stuff that Star Wars fans will encounter repeatedly in the future, whether they make it to Disney World or wherever or not.

Sliney is, I imagine, an ideal artist for this sort of comic. His panels are all packed with detail, so his various crowd scenes are full of characters that seem like they might have interesting lives and cool stories of their own (that is, in essence, the core appeal of Star Wars; think of how...much has been written and drawn about, say, Mos Eisley's cantina patrons, or the half-dozen bounty hunters Darth Vader shared a scene with in Empire, based solely on the fact that someone liked the look of those characters and wanted to know more about them, and some of those same people eventually had to imagine those backstories for them). Dok's shop is similarly jam-packed with stuff, all rendered to such a degree that it all seems equally important.

Sliney is also good at drawing likenessesHan looks like Harrison Ford, Chirrut looks like Donnie Yen, Kylo Ren...well, he could use a bit of work, honestlybut without being so slavish in his realism that the likenesses look out of place sharing the same space as a bunch of characters drawn from imagination rather than scenes from movies.

His isn't necessarily the style of Star Wars comics I most appreciate, as there are no so goddam many of the things at this point that I now feel about them the same way I feel about, say, Batman comicsI'm more interested in what personality or inventive, stylistic flourishes individual artists can bring to the common propertybut I think he's perfectly-suited to this comic, and there's nothing bad or wrong about the rendering or the storytelling.

It did increase my excitement for seeing the next Star Wars film, though, because at one point the Stormtroopers break out a weird-looking speeder with a giant tank tread attached to the front (which is seen briefly in one of the trailers) and though I puzzled over it for a while, I could not figure out how on earth is was meant to work from the two page sequence it appears during. Like, it seems to fly like a speeder, but the tread spins...? But what's the point of the tread? When resting, it sits atop the tread, but don't the old speeders all have some kinda weird anti-gravitational aspect that allows them to, like, float when not being flown...? (UPDATE: I've seen the film. It's...got some problems. The speeder with a tank tread is not one of 'em.)


War of The Realms: The Punisher (Marvel) One of the unlikely pleasures of Jason Aaron and Russel Dauterman's War of The Realms event series for Marvel was seeing characters that are generally rather far removed from Thor's world of Kirby-ized myth and fantasy suddenly having to contend with magic and elves and trolls and the like, and no character in the series is more far removed from Thor's world than The Punisher. So seeing Punisher interacting with such fantasy creatures and charactersgenerally violently, of coursewas one of my favorite parts of that series. Naturally, there was a Punisher tie-in series, the three-issue War of The Realms: The Punisher.

Written by Gerry Duggan and drawn by pencil artist Marcelo Ferreira and inker Roberto Poggi, this sixty-page story is set somewhere between Castle's appearance in the earliest part of War of The Realms, when he briefly exchanges words with the resurrected Wolverine as they both attempt to stave off Malekith's invasion of Manhattan, and his later appearance as part of one of the "strikeforces" that were given particular quests to do during the middle of section of that series, when he joined Freya, Blade, She-Hulk and Ghost Rider in an assault on the "Black Bifrost" housed in Svartalfheim.

This trade paperback also includes three short stories apparently culled from other WOTR tie-in books, War of The Realms: Omega #1 and War of The Realms: War Scrolls #3; of those three shorts, two feature Castle and one does not, which makes it seem feel extremely out of place here.

As for the main story, it's a pretty simple affair. Castle spends much of the first issue fighting dark elves mounted upon giant dogs and a frost giant in the streets of New York, and at one point the frost giant throws a car full of people at Castle. Of the three passengers in that car, there's only one survivor: A man whose wife and child were just killed in front of him. As Castle carries him to a hospital, he swears to the man that he will hunt down and kill the giant responsible (That's apparently the plot of Punisher Kill Krew, another Punisher miniseries written by Duggan that was released after War of The Realms, and is essentially a sequel or continuation of this storyline).

At the hospital, a doctor tells Castle that she and her staff have no choice but to attempt to evacuate all of their patients on foot through the Lincoln Tunnel, no matter how dangerous it might be, as the hospital is now in a war zone and lacks power. (If they would have waited a bit, I think Doctor Strange would have magically evacuated them all to Avengers Mountain, but I suppose the doctor didn't get a look at the script for the main series, and was merely operating off the best knowledge she had at the time). So Castle gathers a sack of medieval weaponry, boards a bus that was in the middle of a prison transfer when the invasion started, and press-gangs the convicts on it into helping him protect the patients and doctors. As long as they are fighting off the otherworldy invaders, Castle won't put bullets in their heads.

The remainder of the series/story is devoted to detailing this action movie-esque premise: The coolly psychotic, heavily-armed vigilante leads an army of convicts wielding medieval melee weapons through a tunnel full of monsters. The Punisher's forces win the battle of the Lincoln Tunnel, pyrrhically, with just Castle and one of his prey-turned-allies left standing. It's probably no surprise that the convict isn't left standing much longer, although Duggan does a pretty good job of making Castle's reversion to form somewhat of a shock (that I've spoiled; sorry/not sorry) by having Castle swear not to do what he always does long before he does it.

While mostly an exercise in event series crossover page-filling, Duggan does some pretty fine character work with Castle, revealing something of The Punisher's thoughts about religious matters that have likely been revealed before, but which I haven't seen portrayed in such a way in a while. Duggan also manages to find what I consider the perfect balance in the character, in which he seems like a dangerously psychotic, inhuman monster governed by a few simple, simplistic rules, who is a tolerable, even enjoyable protagonist (as opposed to a hero) given the circumstances the story puts him in. Additionally, there's something funny about the character; like, he himself doesn't have much in the way of a sense of humor, but his transformation into a symbol of a rigid, black-and-white vigilante executioner presents such a sharp contrast with more realistic characters, or even more comic book-y comic book characters, that scenes in which he appears can sometimes be quite funny (the book opens, for example, with The Punisher storming into a music shop and demanding some piano wire from the piano teacher there).
It is, in other words, a portrayal that tracks with Garth Ennis', which is the only portrayal of The Punisher that really makes much sense to me. Efforts to make him sympathetic or righteous always seem to fall flat to me.

And then there is, of course, the aforementioned visceral pleasure of the clash of fantasy monsters with the militarized urban vigilante. Ferreira and Poggi, colored by Rachelle Rosenberg, do a particularly fine job of illustrating that clash, with the monsters of Malekith's army designed and portrayed in such a way that their existence in the same universe as Frank Castle and his New York City is believable, although it's pretty clear that they belong on different ends of it.

Of the three short stories, the first serves as a sort of bridge between War of The Realms: The Punisher and Punisher Kill Krew; it's an epilogue to Duggan's just-finished series, with a cliffhanger to be explored in his next one. Drawn by Juan Ferreyra, who provided the non-variant covers for the series that fills up most of the book, it's ten pages of Castle wandering a still burning New York City at night, encountering aspects of the aftermath of the war, some of them appearing particularly eerie now that the battle itself is over, as when he finds one of the elves' abandoned giant dog steeds, feasting on a dead horse.

There's a brief confrontation with some Asgardians, and a timely appearance by Thor, before Castle again meets with the man from the first issue of the miniseries, reconfirming that he plans to hunt down the frost giant and avenge the man's family.
That's followed by a Doctor Doom story by writer Christopher Cantwell, artist Cian Tormey and colorist Dan Brown that is basically a quick character study of Doom and how he's seen in his home country, while also showing Doom defending Latveria from Malkeith's forces.

And, finally, there's a She-Hulk story in which Castle plays a rather minor role. Set during Freya's strikeforce's incursion onto Svartalfheim, it's narrated by Jennifer Walters, who frets over whether or not she should tell Freya, Thor's mom, that she and her fellow Avenger are kinda sorta maybe dating now.

Then a dragon swallows The Punisher and Blade, Jen transforms into She-Hulk, and Hulk just blurts out, "Hulk and Thor seeing each other," because while Jen might have been scared to tell Freya, "Hulk scared of nothing." This leads to a pretty funny bit in which She-Hulk talks about her thoughts on the still-budding romance, which sound like pretty normal thoughts on a still-budding romance, but they are delivered in Hulk speak:
This story is written by Charlie Jane Anders and drawn by Simone D'Armini* (Federico Blee handles the colors). D'Armini's art is pretty incredible, stylistically it's as far removed from any kind of superhero house style as one could imagine, and yet the characters still look like themselves, and their personalities are conveyed through the exaggerated art, which gives the sequence a weird, nervous tone.

 I would love to see more D'Armini art, and, as I was reading, I did briefly wish he had drawn the whole series that preceded these shorts, although I think the fact that his style is so far removed from what one expects from a Marvel comic, particularly a big crossover event series type of comic, that it wouldn't have worked as well for the purposes of the main series as Ferreira's did.

Still, he draws really great versions of all of the characters, his swamp dragon is awesome, and his Svartalfheim looks and feels like a strange, alien place.

His She-Hulk is particularly great, occasionally looking like she's all arms and fists.
The Punisher, the character one presumably bought this volume entitled War of The Realms: The Punisher to see, has only about four lines, and his role in the story is basically to talk music with Blade until they get swallowed whole by a monster, and Shulkie and Freya must kill it and free them.


Young Justice Vol. 1: Gemworld (DC) I had previously bought, read and wrote about the first issue of this new series by Brian Michael Bendis...in fact, I wrote about that first issue repeatedly. What can I say? I was excited. I was a fan of Peter David, Todd Nauck and company's 1998-2003 Young Justice series, and, long before that, was a fan of some of its key players. Robin Tim Drake and Superboy, the one that didn't like being called "Superboy" originally, were both new characters when I first started reading comics with any regularity, and therefore I felt a certain degree of kinship to them, or even ownership of them. Young Justice was a book I liked reading, sure, and while it wasn't always great, at worst it was just okay. Regardless of the quality though,  Young Justice had a cast I liked hanging out with.

So new-to-DC Comics Brian Michael Bendis making one of his earliest priorities to reviving the team and title? That was something of great interest to me. After the surprisingly strong first issue, drawn by Patrick Gleason, I decided to bow out and wait for the trade, but DC decided to hold off on publishing a trade paperback collection, going first to a $24.99 hardcover, and so here you'll see Young Justice Vol. 1 in the "borrowed" section instead of the "bought." Instead of waiting a few more months, I just went ahead and borrowed the hardcover from the library (same goes for Tomasi and Mahnke's Detective Comics, reviewed above; I had planned on buying and reading that in trade, but the hardcover beat the trade to press).

What I liked about that first issue of the series is that Bendis managed to reunite 4/5ths of the original line-up (Robin, Superboy, Impulse and Wonder Girl) and introduce two new characters (Jinny Hex and Teen Lantern) and add a pre-existent DC character to the mix (Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld). In less than 20 pages! That...is not what I've come to expect from Bendis after reading, well, everything he's ever written (save that Spawn spin-off series, and later issues of Powers).

The most intriguing parts of the first issue were Lord Opal's discussion with a Gemworld henchman about the concept of an "Earth Crisis," and how those crises impact various connecting worlds like Gemworld, an interesting meta-take on DC's over-reliance on continuity clean-up via line-wide soft and hard reboots, which never actually make anything clearer or cleaner, but rather just re-over-complicates things. That, and, of course, just seeing all of the original Young Justice characters thrown back together, some of them even wearing their original costumes (Superboy, Impulse) and seemingly having come from the pre-Flashpoint/New 52-boot time period, having somehow missed the New 52 Teen Titans (of which I read just one issue, and have tried my damnedest to ignore; I'm not sure if that makes Young Justice easier to read or not, in the long run).

So I was eager to read the next few issues, and Gemworld collects the first six of the series, to see exactly what Bendis did with this concept of a tangent world seeking revenge on Earth for screwing up its very nature with all its goddam continuity battles, and how on Earth he was going to make a pot-Flashpoint Young Justice possible (Tim, Cassie, Bart and Supberboy were all in Teen Titans right, wearing those godawful costumes? That wasn't just a nightmare?).
Was this real? Or a nightmare? Can't it be both?
It turns out...he doesn't. At least, not in the following five issues. That doesn't mean this is a bad story or series, of course. I mean, this being comics, there's no reason Bendis can't just completely ignore the previous eight years worth of continuity with these various characters, although I suppose he'll get to it, eventually. There are two scenes making clear he's working on it.

 For now at least, and or me personally at least, it was just a great pleasure seeing these characters together again, to seeing Superboy in his "Reign of The Supermen" costume (or a version of it, anyway), to seeing a Bart Allen who looked and acted like Impulse rather than a neo-Kid Flash and to seeing all the hugs. There's a lot of hugging in this comic; I might have even teared up at one point.
Aww...
So, this is the story: Invaders from Gemworld attack Metropolis, seeking to draw out Earth's champion, Superman. He's not around at the moment, but, conveniently, a few superheroes not native to the city are visiting: Red Robin Tim Drake, Wonder Girl Cassie Sandsmark and Jinny Hex, a descendant of the scarred gunfighter, who has a mysterious trunk full of weird weaponry and other items in the back of her pickup truck. Joining the fray are also someone calling herself Teen Lantern, with Green Lantern-like abilities and, somewhat perplexingly, Impulse. By the end of the issue, they find themselves transported to Gemworld, where they are all separated. Robin finds himself held at sword-point by Amethyst, while Impulse finds Superboy there.

On Gemworld, they are targeted as invaders by the evil Lord Opal, and they are captured, escape, fight back, and winpretty standard superhero stuff, really. Along the way, Bendis continually flashes back to show how some of the characters got here.

First Wonder Girl, who was putting down Despero in Jacksonville, Florida (which seems...wrong to me, but I'm so out of touch with the month-to-month goings on of the DC Universe now that I have no idea who is where anymore), when her grandfather Zeus shows up and has a long-ish chat with her (I thought he was dead? I guess not keeping up has its advantages; reading this, I never knew if Bendis was cheating on continuity, or I just missed all the changes since the last I heard of various characters). Then Superboy, who was a high school student in Smallville, before accidentally getting himself zapped to Gemworld while investigating shady shenanigans at a STAR Labs lab. Then Tim, who was making out with Stephanie Brown on the hood of his car outside the Hall of Justice in Washington, D.C., waiting to take a meeting with Zatanna (Okay, this I know! They drove off from Gotham City together at the end of Tynion's Detective Comics run, so this definitely tracks, at least!***).

This scene with Zatanna  is where Bendis comes closest to explaining what the hell is going on with the team, and why the previous Young Justice run is both in-continuity and out-of-continuity, simultaneously. Having seen other timelines recently (again, in Detective Comics), Tim and Steph want to figure out what's going on, and Zatanna summons a two-page splash from within Tim's head, one that pretty thoroughly includes the previous Young Justice run: The Secret, Red Tornado, Slobo, Empress, Arrowette, even Snapper Carr and The Ray and, odder still, the League from the Morrison/Porter JLA, just as they appeared during the run, looking approvingly down at them. Tim has resolved that he lead another life and wants to find his friends and figure out what happenedand, for some reason, Stephanie doesn't remember that life. It's unclear if anyone else does.

So yeah, no resolution on that front, but intriguing clues. I would say that I'm really excited about the resolution, and about what comes next but, well, I've seen Tim Drake's new costume (a sort of maroon and gold version of Marvel's Ronin costume, only with a domino mask instead of a ski mask), and I've learned his new superhero code name. The former is bad (even when compared to his original New 52 get-up), and the latter is worse. Actually, maybe it's the worst. He's calling himself "The Drake" now, apparently. So, he took his own surname, and added a "The" to it. Ugh. I'd prefer he stick with "Robin." I can handle two characters named "Robin," especially given how infrequently Tim Drake and Damian Wayne actually ever cross paths.

Now, Tim has joined Cassandra Cain as a once great character who has a poor costume and a worse name. I mentioned it on Twitter, but if Tim Drake can't be "Robin," I think better code names would be "Redwing" or "Redbird." The former was formerly used by a "Team Titan" who I imagine no longer exists, and has the advantage of beginning with an "R", so he could keep his Robin-symbol on his chest, and of echoing Dick Grayson's post-Robin code name, Nightwing. The latter was the name of his car, but it also begins with an "R" and it is in keeping with the bird theme of a swathe of Batman's sidekicks and allies.

But, alas, no one asked me. No one ever asks me.

So, this is a good comic, or at least is in my assessment, but I'm unsure of how it played out to readers who didn't spend five years with an earlier iteration of this team some 20 years ago now, or with readers who followed these characters through their New 52 introductions.

The majority of the artwork is by Patrick Gleason, a long-time DC artist with strong chops for super-heroics and storytelling, and is pretty much perfect for the title. So of course he's gone already. The flashbacks were handled by different artistsEmanuela Lupacchino on Wonder Girl, Viktor Bogdanovic on Superboy and Kris Anka on Robin. They don't all work all that smoothlythere's a greater distance between Bogdanovic's style and Gleason's than there is between the others' and Gleason's, for examplebut by having them draw the flashbacks, they are deployed quite smartly throughout. Evan "Doc" Shaner also contributes, drawing the flashback to the first volume of Young Justice, and John Timms takes over as the "regular" artist with issue #5 and #6, although both of those are flashback-heavy.

Personally, I think I woulda preferred Anka on the title as Gleason's replacement (although then I'd miss him on Marvel's Runaways) or Shaner, but Timms has a strong, dynamic style, and I like his art just fine. I would have loved it 20 years ago. (The one drawback is I think his designs on the characters tend to skew a bit older, whereas Gleason's kids tended to look more like actual kids, particularly his Impulse and Teen Lantern.

The main story is followed by sketches showing off Gleason's designs for the characters, which includes a brand-new look for Wonder Girl that I liked a lot and a Robin costume that is the best one Tim has worn since the one he donned in 1991, and first changed around "One Year Later" or so. There's also an afterword by Bendis, and the now-standard gallery of variant covers, although these include a relative who's who of artists providing great images: Anka, Derrick Chew, Sanford Green, Jorge Jimenez, Dan Mora, Yasmine Putri, Amy Reeder, Shaner and Ramon Villalobos, who I wish drew the whole DC Universe.


REVIEWED:

War Bears (Dark Horse Books) This was a slow month for me, as you can probably tell by the fact that I only had one (1) comics review published anywhere. It was of Ken Steacey and Margarat Atwood's War Bears, which is a good comic that anyone who likes comic books and/or comic book history should find a lot to like in. There are two different things about the book I'd like to talk some more about in the future, but, for now, if you missed it, here's a link to my review of it at The Comics Journal




*I remember when I first Jack Kirby's Mister Miracle series in a trade paperback collection, I was astounded to find that the very New Gods-ian name "Mister Miracle" and that charmingly garish costume both came not from New Genesis, but from a regular old Earth guy. I immediately realized that meant that there was already a super-escape artist named Mister Miracle on Earth a generation or so before Scott Free arrive don the scene, and that meant that 1) Mister Miracle was actually a legacy character of sorts (at least, in-story he was) and 2) There could and should be stories of that Mister Miracle, maybe sharing bills with Zatara or teaming up with the JSA. I did not think that Batman would have ever trained under that Mister Miracle, but I really like the idea that he did. Also, in current continuity, the original Mister Miracle didn't die, which means he escaped death, which is obviously quite fitting. 


**Embarrassingly for Marvel, they misspelled Simone D'Armini's name on the table of contents, crediting the story instead to "Simon D'Armini."


***Stephanie mentions the fact that they both used to be Robin, though, and is apparently aware she's had other identities other than Spoiler. This suggests she's somewhat familiar with their missing memories/history, although because she and Cassandra Cain were able to see alternate realities briefly at the end of Tynion's run, it's unclear to me if she was referring to that or...what, exactly.