Saturday, April 03, 2021

A Month of Wednesdays: March 2021


BOUGHT:

The Final Night (DC Comics) This trade paperback collection of the 1996, four-issue, weekly crossover event series by Karl Kesel and Stuart Immonen serves as a pretty excellent reminder of how much curation can affect the reading of such stories. 

I read almost all of the contents of this collection originally in '96—only the six pages from The Final Night Preview featuring the Sun-Eater's destruction of New Tamaran were new to me here—but at the time I read the main chapters as they were published, interspersed with the handful of tie-ins that were of most interest to me (mostly the Bat-books, plus Superboy, Hitman and Aquaman). At the time, Parallax Hal Jordan's involvement came as a big surprise, as he wasn't even mentioned in the series until the fourth week's Parallax: Emerald Night #1 (and, in that respect, it wasn't exactly great comics-writing, as you really want to put the gun on the table before someone pulls the trigger, you know?).

This collection makes much more of Jordan's involvement, however, as in addition to the collection of the four-issue title series (and the preview), it also includes the Ron Marz-written, Mike McKone-pencilled Parallax one-shot and the Marz-written, Darryl Banks-penciled Green Lantern #81, featuring the funeral for Jordan, who gives his life absorbing the Sun-Eater and reigniting the sun. (Um, spoiler alert...?). 

Read like this, Final Night becomes more a story of Jordan's partial redemption than of Earth's struggle against a more-or-less "natural" apocalypse (That is, the Sun-Eater seems to be something between an animal and a natural phenomenon, rather than the typical villain machinations; in this respect, this is one of the more unique of DC's event stories). 

An alien woman with the too-convenient name of Dusk crash-lands her spaceship in Metropolis, warning that the Sun-Eater is coming to Earth's solar system and the planet must begin evacuating, as there is absolutely no way to stop it from doing its work. She knows this because it destroyed her sun, and she's traveled from planet to planet in its path, warning others of its coming. These others often try to repel it, and no matter what they try, they always fail.

Earth's heroes take up the challenge, though, and after the first issue's defeats, the Sun-Eater envelopes the sun and starts draining all heat and light; Earth immediately begins to freeze, leaving plenty of problems for the many heroes to deal with beyond the cosmic, existential threat itself. Therefore, there's plenty of conflict to fill the event's many tie-in issues, as heroes deal with darkness, cold and the most inevitable of the apocalypses they generally deal with (The most memorable tie-ins I read dealt with that sense of the inevitable, as some heroes spent their tie-in issues bidding their loved ones goodbye, while in the pages of Hitman, Tommy and friends barricade themselves within Noonan's Sleazy Bar and start drinking and swapping stories until the heroes can sort everything out for them). 

At the time, part of the Legion of Super-Heroes was stuck in their past/the present, so a handful of them play fairly prominent roles alongside Superman, Batman, Green Lantern and the sorts of B-, C- and D-list heroes who generally appear in such crossovers. So too do other Superman supporting characters of the time, like Alpha Centurion and Lex Luthor, the latter of whom teams with the time-lost Brainiac Five to bicker and try to find a scientific solution to the problem after the heroes' initial efforts fail (Kesel provides a nice, nuanced portrait of Luthor, accentuating his arrogance and selfishness rather than some more blanket sort of "evil"; this comes through most plainly near the climax, when someone suggests he fly a ship on a suicide mission to reignite the sun, a ship Superman gladly volunteers to fly). 

Kesel also works in some brief but telling portraits of The Phantom Stranger, Etrigan The Demon, Zatanna and Big Barda, with the Stranger sequence rather directly addressing the reader about the power, symbolism and appeal of DC's superhero characters as the book nears the climax.

Because it didn't at all start out as a Parallax story, the Hal Jordan stuff still comes out of left field, and because the Parallax special functions as a sort of unofficial fifth issues of the series, but changes focus (and voice, and setting) so much, it's a very oddly-shaped narrative. During that issue, Kyle Rayner tracks down the then still nigh-omnipotent Parallax and asks him to use his powers to save Earth. Parallax is reluctant to aid his fellow heroes after Zero Hour and his various conflicts with Kyle and the others, but he looks into it and, realizing it would likely cost him his own life, he visits various people important to him (Tom Kalamaku, Carol Ferris, Guy Gardner, John Stewart, etc) to check in with them and/or say goodbye. 

After the concluding chapter of Final Night, the focus again shifts to Kyle Rayner, who was of course the star of Green Lantern at the time, and thus the protagonist of Green Lantern #81, dedicated entirely to Hal Jordan's funeral. That was a noteworthy issue for several reasons, and reads a bit queerly today, when many of the dead heroes mentioned in the proceedings are all alive, and their replacements have all been sidelined in one way or another (There's an interesting panel in which both John Constanine and Swamp Thing appear, which was an extreme rarity at the time, when the borders between Vertigo and the DCU were pretty solid). 

All told then, it's a rather odd collection of a rather odd narrative, but one with plenty of virtues, from seeing Immonen drawing much of the DCU as it existed in 1996, to a very distinct end-of-the-world scenario, to some very nice character work regarding DC heroes big and less big. 

As with the recently published Underworld Unleashed, I found myself wanting to revisit tie-ins to this. I can't imagine DC would actually publish a companion collection of the tie-ins, which were, remember, pretty diffuse and dealt with the characters' reactions to the events more than the events themselves, but I suppose it's possible they could do what they did with Zero Hour, and publish character-specific tie-in collections, like Superman: The Final Night (Superman #117, Adventures of Superman #540, Action Comics #727, Superman: The Man of Steel #62, Supergirl #3, Superboy #33, Legion of Super-Heroes #86)  and  Batman: The Final Night (Batman #536, Detective Comics #703, Robin #35, Hitman #8 and maybe Green Arrow #114?). I don't know if there's enough solid tie-ins of other characters to collect enough of them into a Justice League: Final Night collection; there's definitely a Flash, Green Lantern and Power of Shazam tie-in, but beyond those, pickings grow slim.

Also as with the Underworld Unleashed collection, this includes the relevant portion from JLA in Crisis Secret Files #1, a montage-like image by Immonen, inker Jose Marzan Jr and colorist Tom McCraw recapping the events of the series, plus a text summary and a bit of timeline, as those were the days when it was still possible to produce timelines of DC's history. 


Mike Mignola: The Quarantine Sketchbook
(Dark Horse Books)
Earlier in the coronavirus-caused shutdown, artist Mike Mignola started sharing daily sketches on his Twitter feed, drawing seemingly random, often iconic characters in his own signature style, which rendered them all somewhat spooky and spectral: The Flintstones, Kermit the Frog, Mr. Peanut and so on. At one point, around the time he started drawing mascots from the cereal aisle of the grocery story, I think I tweeted something about how I wish they would collect all of these weird sketches of his into a coffee table book, as I would love to buy such a thing.

And they did!

Mike Mignola: The Quarantine Sketchbook is a 230-page hardcover collection of those very sketches, each given a page of its own. It's not completely complete, as some of the mascot characters seem to be missing, but I was genuinely surprised how many corporate-owned characters made it into the book, given what must have been a somewhat challenging process of securing the rights to publish Mignola's sketches of them. So there are a bunch of Kirby-created Marvel monsters, Silver Age Spider-Man villains, Masters of The Universe and Thundercats characters (Mignola's Skeletor is the best Skeletor), old Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters and the monster cereal mascots, in addition to more expected Mignola subject matter, like Hellboy, chimerical fish people, vegetable people and skeletons in suits posing like they are in 19th century photo shoots, and so on.

At $40, it probably wasn't the wisest investment on my part—I don't even  have a coffee table to put it on!—but according to the copy on the back of the book, all profits are going to raise money for World Central Kitchen, so I guess it's a good cause. That's the same charity that Mignola auctioned off the original sketches to raise money for (Their site is wck.org, if  you want to learn more about them or donate). 

The book includes a short introduction by Mignola's wife Christine and a short afterword by Mignola himself. 


Infinite Frontier #0 (DC) This $6.99, 64-page special is essentially a collection of preview stories for the entire DC line, although there's a framing device that makes it relevant to the ongoing reboots of the DC Universe setting—as far as I can tell, it's now pre-Flashpoint continuity, with the popular bits of the post-New 52 reboot in tact—and at least one section that is a standalone one, and doesn't seem like it will be picked up in any of the comics that have so far been solicited (the Alan Scott section). (UPDATE: Actually, this looks like it will be picked up on in June's Infinite Frontier series.)

The framing device is written by Joshua Williamson "with" James Tynion IV and Scott Snyder, and drawn by John Timms. This involves Wonder Woman in space somewhere, confronted by a huge "Infinite Frontier" logo seemingly rendered in a computer-ized version of Kirby dot lettering. 

"It's all so beautiful," Diana, now outfitted in an all-white costume with trailing streamers and a Sif-like headdress, remarks. She is then addressed by the "The Quintessence," a group of five cosmic beings that Mark Waid and Alex Ross introduced in the page of Kingdom Come, and which Snyder and Tynion have made some use of during their Justice League mega-arc (Timms has redesigned them all a bit, but the most noteworthy elements of their make-up are that Hera is still in for Zeus and The Wizard Shazam has his original look, rather than his New 52 one). They want Diana to join their number—which would necessitate a name change for the group, I would think—but she's reluctant, sensing some danger on Earth among her former comrades. Before she can decide if she wants to ascend or not, she wants to check on them. So The Spectre leads her through the solicitations for DC's post-Future State slate of comics, the pair of them traveling Christmas Carol-style from character to character, allowing readers to sample upcoming plotlines.

These samples can be as short as three-pages and as long as six, and are all generally by the creative teams of the books in which these adventures will unfold. They therefore vary quite a bit in style, tone and quality. I admit I had to put the book down after the first one, three pages of Brian Michael Bendis and David Marquez seemingly setting-up their upcoming Justice League run, as it contained Black Adam seemingly being renamed "Shazadam" and Gah! I can't believe Bendis, as talented as he might be, is still allowed to come up with names for characters. He is literally the worst at it (See, most recently, "Drake", although we can come up with plenty of other examples given a few moments' time, I'm sure, from Geldoff to Naomi). 

Some of these previews are quite intriguing, some of them so-so, but no matter, I think the book will be of value for anyone curious about the upcoming offerings from DC Comics. Among the big changes noted are the resurrection of Roy Harper (aka Red Arrow, aka Arsenal, aka Speedy), the temporary replacement of Barry Allen by Wally West as the "official" Flash (at least in the pages of The Flash; it's Barry that appears in the Justice League preview) while Barry does some Multiverse stuff with the team from The House of Heroes and the restoration of the JSA and related continuity, as evidenced in a short Stargirl story and the aforementioned Alan Scott passage. 

There are three things I want to talk about in particular, though. The first is that Alan Scott passage, which is narrated by Obsidian, who is probably DC's longest-lived, most prominent and most unique gay character, and whom I therefore wish had a higher profile, and was given at least the same amount of attention as the what-if-Batman-killed-people-and-also-didn't-have-bat-ears character, The Midnighter. He and his sister Jade meet their dad Green Lantern Alan Scott at the JSA headquarters at Battery Park (established during Geoff Johns' JSA run), and among the things mentioned are the JSA's disbanding in the 1950s and the existence of Infinity, Inc, giving us a sense of how much of DC's pre-New 52 continuity is actually back. 

Alan—whose ring artist Stephen Byrne draws to resemble a GL Corps ring, although this is likely just an art mistake*—says he's been approached by "some of the greatest minds of this world...and they've asked me to be a sentinel overlooking the totality of this world," whatever that means, but, before he did so, he says wanted to come out to his kids. So he did.

The journey to making Alan Scott gay has been...weird, given that it was an alternate dimension version of him from The New 52's Earth-2 that was gay, and then at some point James Tynion apparently decided to make the "real" Alan Scott gay as well. I understand the impulse of adding a diversity of the sexual orientations of DC's superheroes by retconning the sexuality of a prominent character, but I'm still surprised by the choice of Alan Scott, as he's not that prominent a character, and it seems easier to promote Obsidian who's literally right there, and it seems like Alan is just going to fade back into the background again anyway (if there's a new JSA book on the horizon, it hasn't yet been announced). I'd find this a bit more exciting if there was going to be a new Green Lantern book starring Alan Scott, or at least a new JSA book with Alan playing a prominent role (or if he joined the Justice League or something; Bendis seems to be in the process of an extended homage to a JSA arc anyway).

Still, they now have a more prominent gay character to stick in the pages of the recently announced DC Pride book than their usual gay suspects of Midnigher and Apollo, Batwoman and a handful of bi characters. 

Also of note is the Wonder Woman sequence, written by Becky Cloonan and Michale W. Conrad and drawn by Alitha Mortinez and Mark Morales.  In it, Hippolyta comes upon a group of Amazons fighting one another and demands to know the meaning of this; they say they are battling to see who is the strongest and most worthy to take up the mantle of Wonder Woman. So Hippolyta proposes a test: Whichever of the three contenders will gaze at the head of the gorgon Medusa she keeps in a box will be named the bravest and thus most worthy. Only Nubia accepts...but it turns out the box contains now Medusa's head, but, instead, a crown—Hippolyta plans to replace Diana herself, "and risk being poisoned" by "the world of men", and Nubia will replace her as queen of the Amazons while she does so.

This is pretty frustrating, as I think a black Wonder Woman would be infinitely more interesting and meaningful than Hippolyta-as-Wonder Woman, something we've already seen once in the 1990s, in the pages of Wonder Woman, JLA and JSA. That Cloonan and Conrad teased such a turn of events in their story only accentuates that frustration.

Finally, and most fannishly, there is a lot of panel space devoted to the goings on in Gotham, which makes sense, given how many goddam Batman books there are. I was particularly interested in a pair of panels in which we see Cassandra Cain in her Batgirl costume (hooray!) and Spoiler in her current Spoiler costume fighting a crowd of  opponents while Stephanie chats with Oracle into an earpiece; Oracle is shown out of her own Batgirl costume, wearing glasses and sitting in a chair in front of a computer, the inside workings of a giant clock in the background. Huntress is standing next to her, talking about the status quo, and there's the workings of a giant clock visible behind them. 

I'm not sure if there's a new Batgirls book in the works, featuring Barbara Gordon leading a street team consisting of Cass and Steph, or a new Birds of Prey book featuring the trio and maybe Huntress and Black Canary, but, if so, like a potential JSA book, it hasn't been announced yet. I sure wouldn't mind either a Batgirls or Birds of Prey title, though, and, in fact, find the prospect exciting enough that I might, just might add such a book to my pathetically anemic pull-list. 


BORROWED: 

H.P. Lovecraft's The Call of Cthulhu and Dagon: A Graphic Novel (Canterbury Classics) That H.P. Lovecraft's horror is as effective as it is owes a great deal to the writer's restraint. He would suggest, allude to or, occasionally, tease the object of the horror in his stories—or, as he referred to it when writing about his own writing, "the wonder"—but never fully reveal it. And even when approaching revelation, he did it using language to communicate that language couldn't properly communicate how strange, how bizarre, how awful the horror/wonder actually was. 

The result, of course, was to leave his alien monsters to the imagination of his readers, who could never be sure their own imaginings were even up for the task, for surely the scariest things they could imagine weren't scary enough to properly convey horrors that drive people mad at the sight or contemplation, you know? 

This trick of Lovecraft's makes his work irresistably attractive for visual artist to adapt, while simultaneously making it unadaptable, as all but the most creative artists will surely fail to convey the unconveyable; even the very best renderings of Lovecraftian goblin gods like Cthulhu and the various creatures of the mythos will end up being disappointing on some level.

I think that's why I've never experienced a straight visual adaptation of his work, either in comics or in film, that really seemed to work; Lovecraft wrote about that which he couldn't show you, in fact, that which can not be shown, so is it any wonder attempts to show it always seem wanting? **

That is unfortunately the case with artist Dave Shephard's Call of Cthulhu and Dagon: A Graphic Novel, a comics adaptation of a pair of Lovecraft's more famous stories. You need look no further than the cover to see how dramatically Shephard's strategy varies from Lovecraft's, as you can see the horror/wonder of Cthulhu right there in the upper left-hand corner, looking like an angry green cartoon octopus plopped atop a rotting body.

Shephard does a pretty fine job of massaging the two works so that "Dagon" serves as a sort of preface to "Cthulhu" and that both work much better as part of a complete, comics-told story than they might otherwise have been if he kept the the precise timelines and events of the source material exactly as Lovecraft wrote them. 

The result reads a bit like a long-form version of an old Classics Illustrated comic, but the art is rougher and less-detailed, and there are relatively few panels per page. There are a lot of words though, particularly in the "Dagon" portion, which must have been a difficult equation to struggle with when attempting to adapt a prose work that derives its power more from its wording than its plot-points or imagery.

The book stumbles most when showing the reader imagery that the story suggests is unspeakable; for example, when the police break up a voodoo cult in the swamps of Louisiana, one of the officers shouts, "What they're doing—just sick!" and another vomits at the sight but, well, we see exactly what they are doing, and it appears to be just dancing around a fire naked. Nothing to throw up over, you know? In comics, one doesn't have the luxury of suggesting visuals that one has in prose. Certainly, there were ways for Shephard to do so visually, but he chose not to, and the result was a weird disconnect between the words the reader is seeing and the images accompanying them.

It should go without saying that his Dagon and Cthulhu, while neat designs, aren't rendered in such a way to drive a reader completely mad, or even inspiring much awe; the latter, for example, has the more-or-less generic, expected look of Lovecraft's most famous creation. So too do the strange cities that men find themselves exploring look too ordinary; I kept imagining a James Stokoe-drawn R'lyeh, for example, when looking at the green castle Shephard draws.

I hate to be too hard on the book, as it does have some virtues, but it is nevertheless a perfect example of how goddam hard it is to adapt Lovecraft in a way that is at all satisfying. What it mainly made me want to do is revisit the Lovecraft stories that served as its source material. 


My Senpai Is Annoying Vol. 1 (Seven Seas Entertainment) This workplace romantic comedy by Shiromanta features Igarashi Futuba, a young, diminutive woman who resents being treated like a little kid by others, even though she occasionally acts like a little kid just enough to justify the treatment. She particularly resents Takea Harumi, her giant, somewhat oaf-ish senpai at the company, who acts like an extremely devoted older brother to her. He is the annoying senpai of the title...but does Futuba see him as something more than just an annoying senpai? The answer is a pretty obvious yes, although she tries to deny it to herself quite a bit, and even more so to their co-workers. As for Takeda, he seems perfectly clueless about the prospect of ever being in a relationship with her.

There's therefore not a ton of suspense to the will they, won't they aspect of the melodrama, as Shirtomanta makes it so clear that Futuba has feelings for her senpai. The main suspense, then, is if he ever really notices, if she ever communicates it and then what will happen. 

The art is nice, and greatly enlivened by the use of occasional, limited coloring throughout. 


Star Wars Adventures: The Clone Wars—Battle Tales (IDW Publishing) Similar to the various Vader's Castle comics, Battle Tales is an themed anthology comic with a framing story, the characters in that framing story finding occasion to tell one another different stories at the pace of one per issue. Originally published as a five-issue miniseries, the book is written by Michael Moreci and primarily illustrated by Derek Charm, while the stories-within-the-story each have  a different artist.

Rather than the "horror" stories of the Vader's Castle books, however, the theme here is, of course, war stories, featuring the Republic's clone troopers under the command of Jedi Generals Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker and others.

As the story begins, Kenobi, Skywalker and Plo Kloon command the troopers to hold a position against the droid army of the Confederacy while they pursue Sith bad guys Count Dooku and Asajj Ventress and yes, that does sound more interesting to me than hanging out with the proto-Stormtroopers, but Moreci and company left us no choice in the matter (there are some cool panels of Charm-drawn Sith vs. Jedi battle, though). 

The individual stories-within-the-story are drawn by Arianna Florean and Mario Del Pennio, Megan Levens, Valentina Pinto, Davide Tinto and Philip Murphy, and they feature Clone Wars-era characters like Anakin, Obi-Wan, Padme, General Grevious and lots of various named troopers and commanders, almost none of whom I recognize (Just Commander Cody), as I never watched the Clone Wars TV series (just the 2D "micro-series" version that preceded it). That ignorance of many of the named characters and their storylines didn't seem to hamper my enjoyment of the comic; I got the sense that many of these were characters that would be recognizable to fans, but didn't feel alienated by my not knowing more about them. 


The Way of The Househusband Vols. 3-4 (Viz Media) I still find this joke, that the yakuza member known as "The Immortal Dragon" has transformed himself into a sort of domestic goddess to rival Martha Stewart, funny


REVIEWED: 

Flash Facts (DC Comics) This was a lot of fun, even if it was technically educational. Ten different creative teams—including a who's who of artists whom I'd like to see more work from—tackle different scientific subjects to explain to readers, sometimes by having a DC character like The Flash talking directing to the reader, but more often than not by one character explaining something to another, which lead to some interesting "team-ups", I thought, like Batman and Plastic Man, Poison Ivy and Swamp Thing (featuring the latter noping out when asked to explain where babies come from) and The Atom Ryan Choi and Mary Marvel (who seemed to be dating in their story, at least to me). 

It seems like there was a lot of infrastructure built for the making of this book, including getting celebrity scientist/actress Mayim Bialik to serve as editor and the hiring of educational consultants, so hopefully there will be sequels to the book. There's definitely a near-infinite amount of science to cover in future volumes, and DC sure has enough characters to fill up such stories, many of whom lend themselves to particular topics (like Dr. Light talking about light, Animal Man talking about animal evolution, etc). 

My only complaint? Derek Charm, one of my favorite artists, contributed the cover, but just the cover. I'd really like to see Charm draw more DC superheroes. Maybe he can do an interior story in a future volume, or maybe DC can hire him for something else down the line—I mean, aside from the Constantine kids book he's working on with the great Ryan North, of course—preferably something with a lot of different superheroes in it, like a Justice League or Young Justice story. 


Nubia: Real One (DC Comics) This collaboration between YA prose author L.L. McKinney and artist Robyn Smith, two creators who I had not previous exposure to, ended up being my second-favorite of all of DC's YA-focused original graphic novels, all of which have tended to be quite good (or, at least, all of the one's I've read; I did miss a few). The only one I'd rate higher is Shadow of The Batgirl, of course I went into that one already enamored with Cassandra Cain and Barbara Gordon, whereas I've never really read a Nubia story. 

Nubia: Real One invents a brand-new version of the Nubia character, making her an ordinary-ish young woman in the real world, ignorant of her true origins (which are the same as in the comics). It was a bit frustrating to read Infinite Frontier #0 after this (as stated above) and seeing that DC flirted with giving us Nubia as a Wonder Woman replacement, only to give us Hippolyta as Wonder Woman again. I know the "real" Nubia is different from the Real One one,  and it's kind of too bad that this one is relegated to a one-off ogn, while there are ongoing opportunities in the DCU for Wonder Woman's mom and like three Wonder Girls. Ah well, perhaps this will do well enough that DC will commission a sequel, and McKinney will find she has more to say about the character now that she's come of age and realized who she is and why she has the powers she has...




*Although I do like the idea of Alan with two rings, his original one and a GL Corps ring, something that artist Dean Trippe has proposed in his redesigns of the character. Alan as ring-bearing, honorary member of the Corps seems like a pretty cool, and completely logical, concept. 

**I'm quite willing to be proven wrong. If you have a suggestion of a film or comic adaptation of Lovecraft's work, rather than some form of extrapolation of it, that works quite well, I'd be happy to hear about it in order to seek it out. 

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

DC's June previews reviewed

Despite the fact that my nephew is obsessed with it, I'm not entirely sure what Fortnite is, exactly; as near as I can tell, it's something of a cross between Minecraft and Battle Royale that desensitizes middle-schoolers to gun violence and teaches them dance moves. Both of which would seem to make Batman/Fortnite: Zero Point something of a surprise. At least to me. Not my nephew, though; he started asking his mom and I about it a full week before the solicitations were released. 

The six-issue miniseries plops an amnesiac Batman into the world of Fortnite, and it will naturally parallel the presence of the Dark Knight and some supporting characters in the game as well. It's being penciled by Reilly Brown and inked by a Nelson Faro DeCastro, but as to who's writing it, well, there's no writer listed for the solicitations, just a "story consultant and concept by" credit for a Donald Mustard. The first name credited on the covers, however,  is "Gage," which makes me suspect Christos Gage is writing it , maybe...?  (Yes, according to the press release; Christos Gage and Reilly Brown sound like a pretty okay creative team for a Batman comics, Fortnite or no).

There's a possibility that I may actually read this series, as it is definitely on my pull-list and will pass through my hands at some point, as it has fallen to me to supply my nephew with copies of it. 

Okay, I do want to see Batman fight Snake Eyes, which is apparently something that will happen in Batman/Fortnite: Zero Point #6, as Snake Eyes and some G.I. Joe characters have previously been introduced into the world of Fortnite (which I know because I started receiving texts from my sister asking me questions about Snake Eyes a few weeks back, questions like whether or not he could talk, what his face looked like and what his relationship to Storm Shadow was).  

Normally, I'd say that Snake Eyes could probably take Batman in a fair fight, but Batman could likely come out on top by cheating, which is what I would expect him to do. However, this is an amnesiac Batmanm so that would seem to give Snake Eyes a further edge.

I'd much prefer to see these two trade punches in a Batman/G.I. Joe or Justice League/G.I. Joe crossover, though, as such stories are among those that I've actively fantasized about and probably written and re-written in my head multiple times over the years of being fans of both, going back to the mid 1980s, when I would watch G.I. Joe five nights a week after school and  The Super Powers Team  on Saturday mornings (Now that I am thinking about Batman interacting with G.I. Joe characters again, I think that rather than the whole League teaming up with the Joes to fight some hybrid threats like, say,  Professor Ivo and Doctor Mindbender's power-stealing Battle Amazo Trooper or T.O.Morrow and Destro's Weather Dominator android that looked like a blue Red Tornado, the easiest thing to do would be some sort of G.I. Joe crossover with a new version of the Batman and The Outsiders concept, with Batman allies like Nightwing, Batgirl, The Signal and company replacing the likes of Geo-Force, Halo, Looker and company; after all, they tackled the ruthless terrorist organization Kobra-with-a-K, so it wouldn't be too hard to mash-up the two settings so that both the Joes and Batman and his allies were aligned against ruthless terrorist organization Cobra-with-a-C...)

Anyway, the point is, I really want to read a Batman/G.I. Joe crossover, preferably one that is set in an original, hybridized setting rather than the more common alternate dimension type ones that DC and IDW have done so far. And if Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe and Super Powers artist Tom Scioli could create it, that would be ideal. 

I don't begrudge the kids getting their Batman vs. Snake Eyes comic, but that doesn't mean I don't want my own too, you know?


Garth Ennis! Liam Sharp! Batman! It's going to be awfully hard trade-waiting Batman: Reptilian, a six-issue miniseries by about as ideal a creative team as one could wish for on a superhero comic.  


I can't remember the last time I read an issue of a Catwoman comic, but I ordered Catwoman 2021 Annual #1 (um, does it need both the year, the number and the word "annual" in the title, does it? How many Catwoman annuals are they planning on publishing in 2021...?) because Kyle Hotz is doing both the cover and the interiors. Hotz is an ideal Batman artist, as he proved during his two-issue Spectre team-up in Detective Comics recently, so I imagine he's also a pretty good Catwoman artist. 



Wow, check out Dan Hipp's cover for Crush & Lobo #1. Hipp's such a great artist, although I feel that his chibi style is so familiar it sometimes eclipses the fact that he can draw in other styles too, and do so quite well. I like how his Lobo has a very Simon Bisley feel to his physique here, but with the more abstracted, cartoon-ier look of Hipp. 

I also dig the anti-Etrigan patch on the back of his vest; man, when was the last time those two crossed paths...? 

The interior art is by an Amancay Nahuelpan; I would expect a much more traditional-looking DC super-comic style. Which is kind of too bad. I would buy the hell out of a Hipp-drawn Lobo comic, I think....


Looks like Alan Scott came out to his kids just in time to make the cover of DC Pride #1, a $9.99, 80-page one-shot "celebrating a parade of LGBTQIA+ characters & creators!" 

As with May's DC Festival of Heroes: The Asian Superhero Celebration, the cover inadvertently reveals how relatively few characters the publisher has fitting the description being celebrated, and how little used they are. Of the nine characters on the cover, only one has her own ongoing series (Harley Quinn), or appear regularly in any of the publisher's titles (Poison Ivy, Batwoman and Renee Montoya, at least in her civilian identity, are at least Batman supporting characters, and pop up in cameos and guest-starring appearances here and there; Midnighter and Alan Scott will at least be appearing in future comics, though...) The Flash character and the one I didn't recognize are new ones, The Flash being the one from the "Future State" setting and the other character being Supergirl's Dreamer, making her comics debut (I learned on Twitter).

That's just the cover, of course. As for the interior, the characters featured inside the book will also include Aqualad, Obsidian, Pied Piper and, believe it or not, Extrano, the New Guardian that Steve Orlando has tried to rehabilitate into a Doctor Strange type in some of his comics. 

The book will also include pin-ups and profiles of a half-dozen characters from "DCTV" and the actors who play them. Among the creators contributing are many you would expect from a DC anthology of this type (James Tynion IV, Vita Ayala, Mariko Tamaki, the aforementioned Orlando), but also some pretty exciting contributors not known for their work with the publisher (like Kris Anka, Sophie Campbell and Trung Le Nguyen).

Now put Obsidian back in the Justice League, DC.


Call me crazy, but I think they should have hired a comics artist for this comic book series, Event Leviathan: Checkmate. Instead, the Brian Michael Bendis-written series will have Alex Maleev attached as "artist," but most of his DC art to late has looked more like re-purposed and rejiggered illustration work with dialogue balloons added. 


So this is where Alan Scott will be appearing, following the events of Infinite Horizon #0. Infinite Frontier #1 kicks off a six-issue series by writer Joshua Williamson and artist Xermanico, featuring an unlikely group of heroes exploring the current state of the Multiverse following the latest cosmic continuity rejiggerings and, one imagines, following up on various plot-points from Infinite Horizon, based on the characters on the cover (Speaking of whom...who's the blonde lady in the suit...?). 

I'm interested in reading this, mostly because of Alan Scott and his kids, but I'll be trade-waiting it. I did pre-order the accompanying Infinite Frontier: Secret Files #1 special to tide me over though. I just love secret files...!
 

Man, look at all these white people on Dan Panosian's variant cover for Justice League #63, one of the two issues of the Bendis-written JLA scheduled for release in June. 

I thought the new line-up rather ho-hum upon announcement (Green Arrow and Black Canary rejoining the team again, Black Adam joining forces with a team of heroes with the word "Justice" in their name again, Hippolyta filling-in for her daughter Wonder Woman on the Justice League again). But I am much more disappointed in it after having read Infinite Horizon, and seeing just how close we got to having Nubia fill in for Wonder Woman instead, which would have been something we haven't seen before and, I think, much more meaningful (In addition to making the League a bit more colorful than it is at present).

Then I read Nubia: Real One, and was more disappointed still. 


I've been enjoying DC's collections of issues from Justice League Unlimited, Superman Adventures and Batman Adventures and related comics. Those were all great comics that I've only come to appreciate more and more in the decades since they were originally released, as DC and Marvel have gotten worse and worse at producing all-ages, kid-friendly comics featuring their heroes, instead catering exclusively to adult fans (to the point that Marvel has licensed their characters to IDW to make kid-friendly comics for them; DC's manages solid kids comics, but now does so only in original graphic novel format).

The latest Justice League Unlimited collection, and I'm hoping they manage the whole series eventually, is the somewhat unfortunately titled Justice League Unlimited: Girl Power. According to the solicitation copy, the collection will be 150 pages long, but then there are some 16 issue numbers listed, so I suspect there are some typos (the hyphens should be commas, right?).

It will definitely include #20, as that issue's cover is apparently going to be the cover for the collection (In that story, by Paul D. Storrie and Rick Burchett, Mary Marvel meets the League for the first time, and teams up with the likes of Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Hawkgirl, Dr. Light, Black Canary and Fire).

Assuming the hyphens on the listed issues are the typos, then this should also contain stories from Justice League Unlimited starring Gypsy and Natasha Irons and Wonder Woman; an issue of Justice League Adventures in which the Amazons go to war against the League; and stories from Steve Vance, John Delaney and Ron Boyd's excellent Adventures in The DC Universe series, starring Wonder Woman and Black Canary.

I'm glad to see this material being collected, although I do kinda wish DC would just publish a complete collection of Adventures in The DC Universe in addition to using it as a source to pull material from for their thematic Justice League collections.


The New 52: 10th Anniversary Deluxe Edition is here to remind us that it has already been ten full years since the publisher made one of its worst, most baffling publishing decisions in its long history. Ten years! Have I really been complaining about the New 52 for that long already? Huh. Time flies when you're second-guessing Dan DiDio, I guess...


Suicide Squad Case Files 1-2 are obviously only seeing publication because of the upcoming film, but, whatever the reason, I'll be glad to get them. Each hardcover volume collects "debuts and key appearances" by Amanda Waller, Blackguard, Bloodsport, Captain Boomerang, Harley Quinn, Javelin, King Shark, Mongal, Peacemaker, Polka-Dot Man, Rick Flag, Savant, The Thinker, Ratcatcher and Weasel.  

Nice John Romita JR cover for Superman: Red & Blue #4


There's a solicitations for an original graphic novel entitled Whistle A New Gotham City Hero by writer E. Lockhart and artist Manuel Preitano, which didn't have a cover image accompanying it. This is excellent news, as Gotham City desperately needs a new hero. Right now, the only heroes it has are Batman, Robin, Red Robin, Nightwing, Red Hood, The Next Batman, Batwoman, Batwing, Batgirl, the other Batgirl, The Signal, The Huntress, Spoiler, Bluebird, Azrael, Catwoman and Harley Quinn. Oh, and Ghostmaker and Clownhunter, I guess. 


I'm not so sure about the color scheme or the title, but I'm definitely interested in seeing what the various creators come up with for Wonder Woman: Black & Gold. 

Friday, March 19, 2021

I was going to include a B'wana Beast suggestion too, but didn't want to be unrealistic

DC's June solicitations include the announcement of Wonder Woman: Black & Gold, the latest of the publisher's various anthologies premised on some form of limited coloring, like Harley Quinn: Black + White + Red, Superman: Red & Blue and the various volumes of Batman: Black and White (That's Ramona Fradon's cover for the first issue above, by the way). 

It's not hard to imagine DC continuing with the format in future series, nor to imagine which might be next, like Green Lantern: Green and Black or The Flash: Scarlet and Gold. I'm all for it. In fact,  I hope DC keeps rounding up groups of the greatest comics creators they can for similar anthologies until they get deep, deep into their character catalog. 

I hope they eventually get to all of my favorite characters, in comics like, Oh, I don't know...

Aquaman: Deep Blue

•Shazam!: Red and Gold

•JLI: Blue and Gold

•Lobo: Black and White and Red All Over

•Plastic Man: Red, Yellow and Black

•The Spectre: Glow-in-the-Dark

•Joker: Purple and Green

•The Scarecrow: Orange and Black

•Uncle Sam: Red, White and Blue

•Warlord: Leopard Print

•Spoiler & The Huntress: Purple & More Purple

•The Red Bee: Red and Yellow (and Pink)

•Black Canary: Black and Blonde

•Zatanna: Fishnet

•Black Lightning: Black and Lightning

•Congorilla: Gold

•The Haunted Tank: Olive and Gray

•Bizarro: Rainbow and Plaid

Sunday, March 07, 2021

A Month of Wednesdays: February 2021

 BOUGHT:

Batman: Black and White #2 (DC Comics) I had planned on trade-waiting this new volume of Batman: Black and White, but the second issue contains a story by Sophie Campbell, and I found I couldn't wait to read that after all.

Campbell's story bears the name of a Cure song, "All Cats Are Grey", and is a pretty simply-plotted story that calls to mind Tim Sale and Darwyn Cooke's "Date Knight" from 2004's Solo #1, in which Catwoman's crimes and Batman's chasing of her are depicted as something of an elaborate courting ritual. 

Playing with the format and title more effectively than her peers in this issue, Campbell has a black-clad Batman chasing a black-clad Catwoman through a snowy white Gotham and catching her and recovering her stolen diamond rather easily. They both stand out starkly in the snow...and the fields of white that serve as the backgrounds of several panels.

So Catwoman decides to come up with a plan, inspired by a white cat, and sews herself a new white costume. The camouflage works, and the at times barely-there Catwoman gets the jump on the now even blacker-looking Batman...but what does she really want with the Dark Knight? (Mushy stuff, obviously). 

It's a fun little story, and I'll be honest, it is a little weird seeing Campbell draw Batman, given how far removed that most iconic of corporate superheroes is from Campbell's usual work. There's nothing wrong with her Batman, of course, it's just strange to see her drawing him, and I don't feel like she quite made him her own here (Of course, she is just drawing him as a colored shape in a short, dialogue-less story). She seems on more solid ground with Catwoman, as we've certainly seen Campbell draw lots of female characters, superheroic and otherwise, over the course of her career (I'd really like to see Campbell draw the teens of Gotham though, given her work on Wet Moon, Shadow Eyes and other comics with younger protagonists).  

I do hope we get to see more of Campbell on Batman though; I've had my fingers crossed that she gets her own continuity-free Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles mini-series at some point...

Campbell's is but one of the five stories in this particular 40-page, $5.99 issue, and it is in some ways the strongest. There are two others of particular note.

One is David Aja's "The Devil Is In The Detail," which is the only other one to really take the black-and-white format into account when crafting the artwork; while most of the comics look like ones that  haven't been colored yet, or are simply given tones by a color artist instead of the usual treatment, Aja's, like Campbell's, seems created particularly to be in pure black and white.

The presentation is interesting, as it's set-up as a daily comic strip, telling a "Year One"-esque story, although set, oddly enough, in 1949 (the strip doesn't look like a comic strip from 1949, however, so the inclusion of the year strikes me as a bit insubstantial, thematically). In it, a very Mazzuchelli-esque Batman seeks to solve a series of ritual killings in Gotham that the corrupt police department has little interest in solving themselves.

The other story of note is Dustin Weaver's "Dual," in which our Batman is confronted by a new and evil opposite version of himself, The White Bat. Rather than just Batman in a white costume, the character is an original design that blends Bruce Wayne with his costume in a somewhat disturbing fashion. The art is great—I really liked the designs of the Batplanes, and Weaver's Batman looks an awful lot like that of the original films—but the solution to the mystery of the White Bat is hauntingly abrupt and strange. In a sense, it seems like Weaver just had something out-of-left field happen because he was out of pages, but on the other, it's so out-of-left field that I'm still dwelling on it hours later, and it has a satisfying spookiness to it.

The other two stories are of less interest, being the work of creative teams who have told Batman stories before. Tom King and Mitch Gerads team for a typically overly formal, over-written King story that has an interesting bit of theology to  mull (and a reinforcing scene of a Batman who is not religious), and Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman tell another Batman vs. Joker story.

Next issue contains a Kelly Jones story; we'll see if my willpower will be strong enough to resist buying that one from the shop or not...


Generations Forged #1 (DC) Hoo boy. Writers Dan Jurgens, Robert Venditti and Andy Schmidt have come up with a deeply stupid conclusion to the story that began in last month's Generations Shattered #1, but I'm hesitant to put too much blame on the trio of writers (even if the fact that I shelled out $9.99 for the 80-page book does make me think I've certainly bought the right to complain). 

After all, it's pretty clear that whatever this series was originally intended to be got changed somewhere along the way—remember DC's "5G" plans which would have restored the concept of generations to their much fussed-with DCU timeline, which would have included the institution of a new, futuristic fifth generation that ultimately became Future State?—and I would not be at all surprised to learn if some of the art that appears in this series was used in a story that differed from the one it was originally drawn to be part of, or if some of that art was re-lettered. There's a disjointed feel to the proceedings, with the build-up seeming to be for a much bigger, longer event than the rather sudden, even abrupt conclusion.

As with Shattered, there are a host of artists involved with the drawing of the book, although it's a smaller host: Bernard Chang, Colleen Doran, Bryan Hitch and Andrew Currie, Dan Jurgens and Kevin Nowlan, Paul Pelletier and Norm Rapmund, Mike Perkins, Joe Prado and Marco Santucci (I liked the Pelletier and Doran sections best, visually). The weird group of heroes from across DC's publishing history, the eight that appear on the cover, are scattered in small groups throughout time and space, so that Steel and Superboy are making a new life on prehistoric Thanagar, while Dr. Light, Starfire and Kamandi find themslevs on pre-explosion Silver Age Krypton, and so on.

When Dominus, who has destroyed all of time in order to build himself his own little fantasy world (Waverider refers to Dominus' "extracted time" as like taking a bucket of water from a flowing river, which is an interesting metaphor, but doesn't seem to fit, as we've witnessed the destruction of all of space-time, so it seems more like he emptied the river into an artificial reservoir; Pandora or Doctor Manhattan stealing a decade from the DCU after Flashpoint seems more like someone taking part of a river that continues to flow without the missing water...)

Knowing these heroes are anomalies and are still out there, Dominus sends his new Linear Men to kill them, and so an even more random group of villains start attacking the random group of heroes (So, for example, the original OMAC, Knockout and Artemis attack the group in Kyrpton, while Major Force and Nemesis Kid attack Steel and Superboy, and so on). 

When the Linear Men realize they've all been sent on suicide missions and Dominus had no intention of saving them from the Nothing, they team up with the heroes, and then there's a big fight against Dominus, in which the time stream is restored to...what it was before, I guess...soooo I don't know how this fits in with whatever the current state of the DC Universe/Multiverse/Omniverse (I'll read Death Metal in collected form eventually; I have not and will not read Doomsday Clock). 

The result of this particular continuity screwing-with is what Waverider tells the Batman of 1939 is "The Linearverse.

Allow him to explain: 
Here, people age far more slowly, living much longer than elsewhere. Your youth and vitality will endure for decades, enabling you to be effective far longer than the universal norm...

Embrace your future, Batman... ...For it will endure in ways you can't yet imagine as you span the decades... changing with the times as you align with the greatest of heroes... ...as you fashion Earth into the most unique of the Linearverse's worlds. 
So, I am confused. Is the "main" DCU, the place where all their comics are set, now this Linearverse, or is this just some weird out-of-left-field story we can all feel free to ignore going forward?

And I'm not entirely sure I  understand what Waverider is talking about, although the last page is filled with images of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Dick Grayson and Supergirl from the full range of their history, implying that every story featuring any of them is continuity. 

That was basically Grant Morrison's approach to Batman continuity during his run; "everything happened"...just maybe not as it literally did in the comics. That is, Batman solved the case of the Chemical Syndicate, fought a rainbow monster and had his back broken by Bane, but maybe not in 1939, 1960 and 1994. Rather, Batman's extensive continuity was meant to be considered as compressed and to be on a sliding time-line, so that those things happened, like, 12 years ago, 9 years ago and two years ago, so Batman could still be a relatively young man between 30 and 40 or so, rather than 125. (Basically like Marvel's sliding timeline, where certain things might be fixed, but other events are updated, like characters who were veterans of the Vietnam war ended up fighting in Desert Storm instead...and then the Iraq War, and so on).

That's what makes sense to me. I can't believe, as this comic seems to imply, that Batman's "Year One" is now literally meant to have been in 1939, and he lives in a special world where everyone ages like pre-deluge Bible characters (if that is the case, it presents a problem with the JSA characters that this book never touches on; in fact, some pains seem to have been taken to avoid including any of them). 

Even dumber is the bit with Starfire's hair. You know how when George Perez used to draw her flying, it would look like her hair was, like, a three hundred yards long, trailing off into the distance and forming a sort of comet trail? You know how you just always assumed that was a mixture of artistic license and the fact that there was a comet-like energy trail that streamed out of her as she flew? And that how, at rest, her hair was never longer than, like, ankle-length? 

Well, here it is implied that her hair literally grows to great lengths when she flies, allowing her to somehow shed or chop it off, so that she leads her pursuers into a trap by laying out a Rapunzel-lian long trail of hair and while I don't know who's fault that is, it's maybe the dumbest thing I've ever read in a DC comic. Of course, it so softened me up for the climax and the revelation of a "Linearverse" that I could just nod and think, "Sure, Batman's older than my great-grandfathers. Why not?" 


Green Lantern: Circle of Fire (DC) This is a somewhat curious collection, including as it does what seems like what should probably be two separate and distinct trades into a single, 14-issue, $39.99 collection. 

The first half or so of the book is devoted to the Brian K. Vaughan-written "Circle of Fire" event, which was book-ended by two one-shots (the first penciled by Norm Breyfogle, the second by a Robert Teranishi), and the five one-shot team-ups pairing a brand-new Green Lantern character with Kyle Rayner or a second-tier DC hero. 

The second half collects the first seven issues of writer Judd Winick's run on the title, from Green Lantern #129-136.

I'm not entirely sure why DC decided to put the book together the way they did, but I've got two guesses. 

The first is that they were going for something akin to a complete accounting of Winick's GL work, and Winick does write Green Lantern/Green Lantern #1, one of the five "Circle of Fire" one-shots, and the rest of the event series is just there to provide context. That seems pretty unlikely, though, especially since this collection doesn't bear a volume number, so there's no indication that it will be followed by a collection including the next 7-14 issues of Winick's run. 

My other guess is that both are Green Lantern stories that guest-star the JLA, making them both more broadly appealing than they might be were they simply collections of Kyle Rayner comics. 

Neither guess provides all that satisfying an answer, though; perhaps DC figured the names "Judd Winick" and "Brian K. Vaughan" would move more units together than either would separately, though...? I honestly don't know.

Anyway, "Circle of Fire" was a 2000 event story that is interesting for several reasons, but the fact that it was mostly written by Vaughan is probably the most noteworthy aspect to many readers at this point (Winick, Scott Beatty and Jay Faeber each wrote one of the one-shots, while Vaughan wrote the bookends and the remaining two one-shots). 

There are other interesting aspects, though. It also served as something of a JLA story, it introduced a(nother) new, if very temporary, Green Lantern Corps during a time in which there was no Corps, and it shined a much-needed spotlight on some perennial second-stringers, each of whom teamed with one of the new Lanterns and got their names on the cover of a book again (which probably had something to do with trademark and/or copyright renewal). 

A new cosmic villain named Oblivion has reared his horned head on Rann and seems to be headed toward Earth next; Adam Strange makes it to Ivy Town University, where Professor Ray Palmer is tutoring eternal college student Ronnie Raymond on chemistry. The trio take their warning to the League—which, at this point, was the Big Seven plus Plastic Man—and Green Lantern Kyle Rayner is a little freaked out. See, as a child, he had invented a cosmic villain named Oblivion that looked and acted exactly like this guy for a homemade comic book of his own.

When Oblivion takes down the entire JLA save Kyle, who was sent back to Earth to get reinforcements, he, Adam, Atom, Firestorm and Power Girl get some unexpected help in the form of strange Green Lanterns from different time periods and, in one case, an alternate dimension: G.L., a reprogrammed Manhunter android with a ring; Emerald Knight, a 13th Century knight; Green Lightning, a Flash who is also a Green Lantern from the far-flung future; the Teen Lanterns*, a pair of Kyle's descendants who share his ring; and the Alex DeWitt from an alternate dimension, where Kyle was the one who was fridged by Major Force.

Kyle, suddenly thrust into a leadership position as the last of the current JLA roster active, splits everyone into teams and gives them each a side quest to fill a one-shot special until Circle of Fire #2 rolls around. These one-shots are pencilled by Trevor McCarthy, Cary Nord, Ron Randall, Pete Woods and Randy Green. The conclusion reveals what Kyle's connection is to Oblivion, and the exact nature of the new Lanterns and how exactly it is that they appeared when they did. Having read most of this event before, I knew what was coming, and it sure is easier to see all the many clues Vaughan and the other writers left throughout the one-shots the second time around. 

I do remember feeling a bit disappointed that the new Corps weren't going to stick around; a few of them struck me as particularly strong conceptions of Lanterns from different time periods, and some still do.

The Winick issues that followed, all penciled by Darryl Banks, were all new to me; I read Green Lantern only sporadically during Ron Marz's run (which is why I was happy when DC started collecting it, and then disappointed when they suddenly stopped after just a few volumes), and did so even more sporadically during Winick's run. 

After a few issues setting up a new status quo for Kyle, in which he has a full-page comic strip in a successful magazine that comes with a degree of celebrity, prestige and success that seems completely foreign to me when I think of cartoonists (but I assume Winick circa 2000, himself a celebrity cartoonist, knew better than I do), and reuniting him with his ex-girlfriend Jennifer-Lynn Hayden, the former superhero known as Jade (daughter of Alan Scott and sister to Obsidian), Winick presents a new threat: A new villain powered by a yellow Qwardian power ring just like Sinestro used to wear. 

That villain is Alex Nero, a terribly mentally unbalanced twenty-something artist, and thus a  pretty perfect evil opposite for Kyle. Like Kyle, ring constructs pour out of Nero, and they are just as creative, if more twisted. For example, when Nero first appears, attacking Sentinel Alan Scott, at one point he's riding upon a giant horned infant with goats legs and its mouth sewn shut. Dialogue refers to his monstrous creations as Lovecraftian and like the scarier parts of the Bible.

Artist Banks does a fine job of drawing weird monsters, but I couldn't help but imagine other artists in his position while reading, too; Nero seems like an extremely fun character to draw because of this, and it strikes me as somewhat unfortunate that he was such as short-lived villain...although once Geoff Johns and company created the Sinestro Corps, I guess a Green Lantern villain with a yellow ring lost a lot of its feeling of being something special. 

The villain poses a big enough threat that Kyle calls in the JLA and Guy Gardner (who was still possessed of his "Warrior" alien DNA powers and was  something of a supporting character during this point in time) to help him save New York City from Nero's deluge of monstrous constructs.

The ending of the conflict is pretty anti-climatic, but, throughout these issues, one gets a sense that Winick is on much surer fitting with the Kyle Rayner portions of the story than he is with the superheroic stuff. 


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #114 (IDW Publishing) Another monthly-ish trip to and from my local comic shop, another discovery that they forgot to pull an issue of this series for my pull-list. It wasn't until I got home and started reading TMNT #114 that I realized the story seemed to have skipped over quite a bit, and when I checked my back issues I discovered that I didn't have #113

I've honestly lost track of how often this has happened with this particular title, the last ongoing series I buy, at this point; at least three times, but maybe as many as five times...? I'm kind of at a loss as to how to proceed. I do want to keep buying TMNT serially, in part to support Sophie Campbell's work on the title, in part because all of the other TMNT runs I 've followed I've collected serially, but my shop seems incapable of putting each new issue in my pull-list, and I don't go to the shop often enough (or pay close enough attention to the issue numbers) to always catch it in time. Now they are sold out of issues #113 too, so... 

I did read the issue,  but should probably refrain from discussing it here, given that I missed the one preceding it, and its obviously a direct continuation of that. I will say that Campbell is back on art (Hooray!), Tokka and Rahzar are in it (see Kevin Eastman's cover drawing of them above, although Campbell's versions are quite different looking), and Renet finding herself in Lord Simultaneous' position here was neat. 


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Last Ronin #2 (IDW) After the action-packed first issue set in a future where there's only one Turtle left standing, this issue is mostly concerned with back-tracking a bit to demonstrate how we got to this particular setting.

Michelangelo, that last Turtle, awakes in his old apartment, where he's been nursed back to health by April, who he had presumed was dead. He continues to be haunted by the memories of his brothers, who appear as phantoms to converse with and occasionally cajole him.

As for that flashback, it concerns the immediate aftermath of an ambush on Splinter and the Turtles by the Foot Clan, just as they were on their way to Casey and April's, where a big announcement was going to be made. Splinter is near death from his injuries, and while everyone's safe at the moment, Raphael slips out to bring the fight back to the Foot.

He does, but at the cost of his own life; he takes plenty of ninja with him, but not his ultimate target, Karai.

In the present, we learn that April and Casey had a daughter, who is now a grown-up or close to it: Casey Jones.

So I'm now even less certain of which continuity this is meant to be the future of, if any (Perhaps it's meant to be its own, standalone thing). Like I said regarding the first issue, I went into the series thinking that this would be a possible future of the original, Mirage continuity, given that it is based on a story idea by Peter Laird, who gets a story credit alongside Tom Waltz and Kevin Eastman, the latter of whom share the script credit. But in addition to the variously-colored bandanas, Casey and April's daughter is named Casey, not Shadow, and the Turtles never met her. So it looks like this is actually volume 5/IDW continuity...insomuch as its any continuity, given it's Dark Knight Returns-style, possible-future premise. 

As with the previous issue, Eastman is credited with the layout, while the team of  Esau and Isaac Escorza provide the full art...except for one neat five-page sequence in which Michelangelo tells young Casey about his training over the years, which is drawn in black and white by Eastman and heavily toned, resembling Mirage-era art in its look and feel. It might have been nice if Eastman drew the other flashback in the same style, so there was a distinct and consistent look to differentiate "then" and "now," but Raphael's suicide attack on the Foot Clan is drawn by the Escorazas in the same style as the "present" action, just colored slightly differently (I was a little disappointed in Raph's death, too; it's very dramatic, especially at the end, but the actual fight involves too much posing versus actual action, something Eastman is usually quite accomplished at conveying in comics). 

With three issues left in the series, I would imagine we will get issues similarly devoted to the deaths of Leonardo and Donatello before the finale, but I suppose we'll see. 


BORROWED:

Avengers By Jason Aaron Vol. 7: Age of Khonshu (Marvel Entertainment) The latest collection of The Avengers is a perfect example of writer Jason Aaron's application of Grant Morrison's old JLA formula, of a council of the world's greatest heroes devoted to staving off a seemingly inevitable apocalypse, with seemingly every story being about the end of the world as we know it—and though the heroes always triumph, the ending of the world is only delayed, as the next arc will also feature the imperiled world and, in fact, each apocalyptic battle is simply part of a bigger, ongoing storyline.

Of course, Aaron's been quite obvious about the shape of his story all along, as he constantly re-references aspects like the prehistoric, first Avengers, parallels them with later, current heroes, revisits rival, anti-Avengers super-teams and presents Mephisto as the architect behind all of the team's woes and, ultimately, all of the peril Earth faces. 

So the title arc here is a five-part story in which Moon Knight essentially takes on all of Earth's heroes and wins (to be fair, he executes a lot of sucker punches, and is able to defeat the likes of Iron Fist and Doctor Strange and swipe their powers because they think they're meeting with an ally, not an enemy). This ushers in the "Age of Khonshu," in which Moon Knight's moon god patron has conquered the world and started transforming it into his own image. 

On it's own, it's a pretty interesting extrapolation of Marvel lore and a good set-up for a fight comic. But it's also being told as part of a bigger storyline, as the reason Moon Knight helps Khonshu conquer the world is in order to better defend it from the threat that Mephisto poses. Obviously the Avengers win the day after losing for a bit—the better to make for a dramatic story, of course—but it leads directly into the next danger to the Earth, as Moon Knight ultimately seeks out The Phoenix, one of the several primeval powers that the prehistoric Avengers commanded (and which filled Moon Knight/Khonshu's arsenal).

There are three other issues surrounding the title arc. It's preceded by two one-issue stories, the first of which details Iron Man Tony Stark's time travel exile to the Ice Age, where he is repeatedly confronted by Mephisto, the second of which hopscotches around the world, checking in with various Avengers villains like Namor, Dracula, the Winter Guard and The Squadron Supreme of America, and Aaron demonstrates how they are all dancing to Mephisto's tune, in one way or another. The final issue in the book is basically a narrative deep breath between action-packed arcs, as the characters prepare to deal with the threat posed by the Phoenix. 

As for the art, Avengers very much continues to be an "it takes a village" sort of book. Tony Stark's issue spent in the Ice Age is credited to a half-dozen different artists and a pair of colorists. Ed McGuinness, who gets second billing on the cover, manages one and a half issues. But the entire "Age of Khonshu" arc is drawn by a single artist, Javier Garron, who therefore is this volume's primary artist.

Some of Aaron's writing seems specifically targeted to allow for too few panels in a sort of irritatingly obvious way. The first two pages of issue #32, the issue half-drawn by McGuinness, are simple splash pages of Namor; the first from his coronation day, the second from the modern day. The first page is  accompanied by about 160 words of stuffed narration boxes, all describing fantastical images that the reader just has to imagine, because what is this, comics? Why should you expect to be able to see an image accompanying Aaron's pleasingly purple prose? 

The second page contains a similar amount of prose narration, with a contrasting, opposite image of how things have changed for the worse in the "many tides" since Namor was crowned. It's fine writing, but it's poor comics writing, and seems calculated to cover for an artist who just isn't going to draw more than five panel per page, and would prefer to simply stick to splash pages, if that's cool (#32 has three splash pages, #38 has about eight, with two of them covering a page and a half of a spread). 

It's not quite so bad encountering pages like this in a trade paperback borrowed from a library, but I can only imagine how irritating it is to drop $4 on a comic from the shop that takes but minutes to read, and have the creators more-or-less rub the readers' faces in the fact that they are providing as little art as possible.

But that's some other audience. I did borrow this trade from the library, so although I noticed it, I didn't feel particularly irritated by it. 


Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 4: Cold Vengeance (DC Comics) The title story in this collection of Detective Comics #1012-#1019 hinges on what strikes me as a rather bad idea: Fussing with Mister Freeze's origin and long-time motivation, at least as it was laid out in the "Heart of Ice" episode of Batman: The Animated Series, one of the very best handful of episodes of that still-influential series.

To quickly recap, Victor Fries' wife Nora had contracted an incurable disease, and in order to save her he used his genius in the field of cryogenics to freeze her until such a time that he could safely revive and cure her; funding his research has been the prime motivation for his life of crime. It was such a good story that it's the sort of thing I would be leery to see anyone mess with, and yet Peter Tomasi, Doug Mahnke and company do just that in this story arc. This is the story of how Mister Freeze finally revives Nora (Of course, she has been revived before, near the very end of the 2000-2006 Batgirl series, but, thanks to the vagaries of DC's cosmic rebootings, that is a story that has now apparently un-happened).

To Tomasi's credit, he gives Mister Freeze an interesting, outside-the-usual-narrative breakthrough, in the form of a boon from Lex Luthor, as this arc kinda sorta ties into the climax of Scott Snyder and company's Justice League arc (barely; not only does Freeze talk repeatedly of Luthor's off-panel deal with him, part of Luthor's pitch to various villains throughout the DCU to bring them on board in his doom vs. justice war, but there are a few panels where in the doom sigil appears in the sky above Gotham. That's the only mention of the goings-on in Justice League, though. It's all fairly red sky, beyond the Luthor's gift element being an important plot point). 

Tomasi also does some interesting, unexpected things with the resurrection storyline, redesigning Freeze and getting him out of his suit, giving the villain what he always wanted but with a twist (to the extent that Batman and Mister Freeze end up teaming-up against Nora) and putting the "toys" of the characters back in such a way that the next writer to want to use them can do so without any gargantuan efforts to write around this story.

Leery as I was of the story, Tomasi did a pretty amazing job of it. There's also an appearance of Batcow, which struck me as kind of hilarious, given that its one-panel appearance involves Lucius Fox asking about using the cow in the cave for a test and Batman saying no; if one walked into this comic, um, cold, it would seem completely random that there's a live cow in the Batcave. 

This five-issue arc is mostly penciled by Mahnke, but as is so often the case with the artist, others are needed to finish it, with the last two issues featuring the work of additional pencilers and small battalions of inkers. As per usual, the story suffers from the messier visuals near the climax.

Two more stories round out the collection. The first is a fill-in issue written by Tom Taylor and drawn by Fernando Blanco. Entitled "Orphans," it seems to be set sometime after whatever happened to Alfred (I believe he's temporarily dead, right?) happened, and has Lucius goading Batman into taking an interest in a Wayne family orphanage, where he finds something terrible going on. It's a nicely-written,  highly emotional story, and there's a neat little exchange regarding Superman at one point. I wasn't crazy about Blanco's artwork; it's fine, but his style is so realistic that it's a pretty strong departure from that of Mahnke and the rest of the book.

The final story is the two-part "Dead of Winter," in which a pagan cult is committing ritualistic murders throughout the city, and end up summoning and extra-dimensional monster that is only too happy to humor their false, pagan beliefs if doing so allows it to eat them. It's a pretty strong one-issue story, but is stretched out to two issues. Tomasi returns to write this one, which is drawn by Scott Godlewski.

Ace and Titus make an appearance in this story. I hope incoming Detective Comics writer remembers all the animals that Damian has gradually filled the Batcave up with (and I wonder who is feeding them all now that Alfred's gone, and Batman and Damian seem semi-estranged again; surely Lucius isn't taking Batcow out to graze each morning, is he...?)


Batman Vol. 2: Joker War (DC) The second collection of writer James Tynion IV's run on Batman follows quite directly on the heels of the first, Their Dark Designs, the main conflict of which ultimately turned out to be a Joker plot, too. That ended with The Joker and his accomplices in control of the Wayne fortune, and here we see they've also taken control of "The Hibernaculum," the secret base from which Batman and Lucius Fox now pump out bat-vehicles...and they've also taken control of Fox's mind, thanks to some acupuncture and Joker chemicals. The result is that The Joker is now using Batman's own weapons against him in an all-out war on Gotham City.

At least, that's the pitch for the story, a big event of a story arc, which, in reality, is both a little too big for a satisfying complete story, but a little too small to sustain what must have been a slew of tie-ins (Many of which are collected in a second trade I haven't read  yet, The Joker War Saga). In other words, while reading the story it is clear that a significant amount of the narrative is missing. Characters talk about hew character Clownhunter, for one example example, and his activities are presented as if in a summary, but he doesn't directly enter the narrative until the epilogue. As the book reaches it's climax, stories seem to start or stop without actually unfolding, as if alluding to the events of other books. Most whiplash inducing for me was seeing Cassandrda Cain introduced via text box as Orphan near the end, when Batman summons his army of allies, only to see her next appear in her old Batgirl costume. 

And yet while chunks of the story appear to be happening elsewhere, and Tynion alludes to them in this arc, a perhaps necessary but unwelcome evil, the plot itself doesn't seem to justify so many tie-ins. While a potentially city-destroying story, it's not that apocalyptic a threat for a Batman comic. 

The Joker has dug up and reanimated the corpses of everyone he's ever killed—or at least a lot of them—and seated them in the Monarch Theater for a special showing of The Mark of Zorro. It's a trap laid for Batman, who has been dosed with a new and special gas that has freaking out, hallucinating and ultimately taken out of commission for days. 

While Harley Quinn nurses him back to health with the help of Poison Ivy's plants, the city descends into chaos, as gangs of people in Joker masks terrorize the city in Joker-mobiles—sadly all generic-looking Batmobiles with paint jobs; artist Jorge Jimenez didn't use variation of the old Jokermobile with The Joker's face on it for a model—and Batman's ten thousand sidekicks are all MIA, apparently because he pushed them away due to sadness over Alfred's death or whatever (Again, that's stuff that happened in some other comics). 

Meanwhile, The Joker is using his fortune to arrange special showings of The Mark of Zorro in every theater in Gotham, which he plans to pay people thousands of dollars to attend; they will then get gassed, making for a whole city sharing Batman's origin of sorts. 

Thanks to help from Harley, Batman ultimately rallies, calls in his many allies and stops The Joker, saving the day. 

Tynion over-writes the climactic Joker vs. Batman battle a little bit, I think, as The Joker monologues about the nature of Gotham City and their competing worldviews so much that it feels like the character explaining Tynion's themes directly to the reader, rather than letting them play out naturally, but there's an interesting take on the old "Should Batman just kill The Joker?" chestnut, as Harley tries to kill The Joker (she succeeds in putting out his eye), and then forcing Batman's hand, making him choose between saving her and saving him from certain death.

That stuff is rather nicely played, I thought, and made up for the weaker bits of the climax.

Jimenez sticks around for the entirety of the arc, all but a few passages of the extra-sized concluding chapter, anyway (different artists, including Guillem March and Carlo Pagulayan, draw various epilogues). In that respect, though the plot of Their Dark Designs seemed quite a bit bigger and threatening, this arc reads better, with a consistent look and feel throughout.

While not my absolute favorite current Batman artist, there's no denying Jimenez is pretty great, and his style is technically within the spectrum of DC's house style, but far enough towards the edges of it that there's a great deal of personality to it. His figures are dynamic and dramatic, and he does sexy well, both in the male and female characters. 

Like the previous volume, I think this was head and shoulders above Tynion's Detective Comics work, even if it's not perfect. 


Komi Can't Communicate Vol. 11 (Viz Media) The seemingly eternal will they, won't they of Komi and Tadano's mutual but unspoken crushes reaches another dramatic point when they both go on vacations with their families...and end up at the same spot (Najimi's there too, having tagged along with Tadano's family). 

In addition to that dramatic moment, it also allows for more of interaction with their little siblings, Hitomi Tadano and Shosuke Komi, who now star in their own occasional stories (wherein Hitomi uses ventriloquism in an attempt to make Shosuke seem more normal). There's also another appearance of Komi's parents in high school, as we see what happens when the teenage girl who would grow up to be her mother tries to confess her feelings to the teenage boy that would grow up to be her dad. 

At this point, I kind of love the entire Komi family. 

There are a few new characters introduced, at least one of whom Komi can add to her book of friends, but it's too early to tell if she'll become a major player or not (The character, Ase, also has a communication problem: She sweats so profusely she's afraid to be near anyone else, lest they discover this fact). 


REVIEWED: 

Banana Fox  and The Secret Sour Society (Scholastic) So I really wanted to work the sentence "Kids will go bananas for Banana Fox!" into my review somehow, in the hopes that such a pithy phrase might get me blurbed on the back of a future sequel, but I just couldn't find a way to do it. 

Wait, maybe I can just do it here: Kids will go bananas for Banana Fox

There.


The Book Tour (Top Shelf) Andi Watson's first graphic novel for adults in seemingly forever is a treat, and you can read me babbling about it at length at The Comics Journal here


Chef Yasmina and The Potato Panic (First Second) Weegee: Serial Photographer artist Wauter Mannaert writes and draws this charming kid-friendly graphic novel about a little girl who has to save her city from a plague of potato chips with bizarre side-effects. 


Justice League Unlimited: Hocus Pocus (DC Comics) Having already talked about this book at length here on my blog, I guess I'll just link to my Good Comics For Kids review of it and move on. 


Marvel Action: Avengers: The Living Nightmare (Book Four) (IDW Publishing) This volume seems to conclude writer Matthew K. Manning's 12-issue Marvel Action: Avengers series, which, now that it is all complete, proves to have hung together quite nicely as a series of standalone arcs that build like bricks into a bigger, overall story. Kid-friendly but every bit as engaging to an adult reader like me as the main, Marvel-published Avengers series, this was a surprisingly satisfying series. This particular volume features A.I.M-ized Avengers, a few of which you can see on the cover, each of which has an amusingly dumb new name. 

Mickey Mouse: New Adventures of The Phantom Blot (Fantagraphics) The latest volume in Fantagraphics' Disney Masters series collects the seven issue Phantom Blot series from the mid-1960s, drawn by Paul Murry. When it comes to old Disney comics, I'm usually more of a duck comic guy than a mouse comic guy, but the fun thing about this series is that it blended the casts of both, so that Mickey, Goofy, Donald and Uncle Scrooge might all appear in the same comic, trying to stop The Phantom Blot and The Beagle Boys from robbing Scrooge. For such an old comic, it was surprisingly timeless, too, with few markers that would make it seem ancient to current young readers. 


*DC's Young Justice-centric event "Sins of Youth"  featured a de-aged Green Lantern Alan Scott who was dubbed "Teen Lantern." That was published in May of 2000, whereas Circle of Fire #1 was published in October of 2000. So the origin of the Teen Lantern name, recently resurrected to apply to a new character in the pages of the Young Justice revival, is the "Sins of Youth" event, not this. Just in case you're wondering.