Sunday, October 31, 2010

Ale Garza's Scarecrow

I tried to remain at least a little bit coy regarding the villain in my hastily-written review of October 20's Superman/Batman #77, but it's been about a week and a half, so presumably anyone planning on picking up the book has done so by now. And since tonight is Halloween, a post devoted to The Scarecrow seems apropos.

The villain menacing Supergirl and Robin Damian Wayne in the Halloween-themed Superman/Batman #77 is, of course, The Scarecrow, my favorite Batman villain and one of my favorite comic book characters in general—from a design stand-point as much as anything else. I've always loved the way that almost every artist who draws him does so differently, and yet their depictions almost always turn out looking "right."

The artist for this particular issue of Superman/Batman is Ale Garza, with Oliver Nome inking. When we first see Garza's Scarecrow, he's wearing a costume over his costume, since he's attending a Halloween costume party.

The jack o' lantern head is a pretty appropriate disguise for a scarecrow.

Supergirl notices that the fellow in the cape and pumpkin head is the only party attendee not talking about a recent spate of murders nor seemingly atwitter with fear, so she accosts him, giving us a better look at this Scarecrow's attire: Very nice footwear! They say both "rustic" and "villain" at the same time, and are pretty far removed from the scarecrow socks tied with rope that the character usually wears.

The villain retalliates by PSSSTTT-ing Supergirl with a special, Kryptonian-strength fear gas, in a scene which gives us a nice view of his ascot: Or weren't you looking at The Scarecrow's neckwear in this panel? Perhaps something else caught your eye? (This is a pretty good example of how Supergirl wearing shorts under her skirt can be sexy without ridiculously impractical. That is, flying around in a skirt might seem kinda stupid, so sure, put her in shorts—short, tight shorts are still kind of sexy, though, so it's not like a single sensible addition to her costume suddenly makes her look puritan (Not to go off on a tangent about a different character's costume or anything here but, for the record, I don't care for this Supergirl's costume at all. I like it with shorts better than without shorts, but the half-shirt, the belt, the mini-skirt, the triangle-shapes on her wrists and the bottom of her shirt...I don't care for it).

The Scarecrow is wearing that pumpkin head for most of the panels he's in, so there isn't a really good image of him in his "real" costume in the book. I think this is the panel in which Garza draws him sans pumpkin the biggest: Not sure what he hopes to accomplish with that wooden stake there.

Here's a close-up of his face: Garza draws the mask as if it is stitched togehter from several too-small pieces of cloth. I'm not crazy about how it looks close-up, but I do like the shape of the head. Generally he's wearing a hat of some sort, or, if he's not, his mask gives his head more of a bag or hood-like appearance. I like how this gives him a smooth, round head—he looks vaguely like a Dum-Dum sucker.

Finally, here's my favorite image from the book. Once the heroes KO Scarecrow, he collapses like a bug in an advertisement for some sort of household pesticide: And that's Ale Garza's Scarecrow. If you'd like to see more of his Superman/Batman #77, you can download a short preview here (The Scarecrow's not in the preview, but you can see Garza and Nome's rather distinctive version of another Bat-villain in it).

Some superhero costumes in this weekend's funnies

Sunday's Family Circus strip offered a wordless observation of the distance between kids' Halloween costumes in their imaginations and in their minds, and our pal Batman makes an appearance. Given the timelessness of most of the costumes—clown, witch, jungle cat—I would have guessed that this might have been a re-run of an older panel, save that the current artist gave young Billy's Batman costume those crazy fake abs so many superhero kids' costumes have developed over the last few years. Those things really freak me out.

Yesterday's Blondie featured Dagwood and his boss Mr. Dithers attending a costume party, the latter dressed as Superman...with one slight alteration. The gag's not really funny, but I like Mr. Dithers' shape, and seeing it wearing that particular costume. I also really like the fact that this is a joke—if that's not too strong a word for what is occurring in the panel—that could have been told at any point since Superman's creation in 1939. That seems fitting, given the strip's longevity.

Here's another one from yesterday's funny pages—Ted and Sally Forth dressed as Hawkman and Hawkgirl. I don't even really understand the "joke" in this one (Is it a weather thing? Because is the weather on October 31 and November 1 really that different?). But it doesn't really matter. The basic design of Hawkman's helmet is so funny all by itself, with those big, crazy hawk-eyes which here, as is often the case in the comics, move as if they were the real eyes of the person wearing the helmet, is such a strong visual gag that mild daily comic strip humor is simply eclipsed by the the default insanity of Hawkman's helmet. Interesting that Ted actually looks like the superhero when he puts that costume one, while Sally looks more like Sally in a costume. I guess it's because we get to see her hair sticking out of the bottom of the helmet, and that she doesn't have big googly eyes over her normal eyes.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Review: X-Men: Pixie Strikes Back

I think this is a pretty good illustration of why those in the business of making and selling serially-published comic books shouldn’t go out of their way to encourage trade-waiting, so please indulge me while I write a long, drawn-out anecdote.

Earlier this year Marvel published a four-issue miniseries called X-Men: Pixie Strikes Back, featuring the new-ish, pixie-powered X-person who seems to function a bit like Kitty Pryde 2.0 in the current X-Men line-up. I don’t normally read X-Men comic books—too many moving parts, even for me—but the series was written by Kathryn Immonen, whose previous Marvel work I rather enjoyed, and it was drawn by Sara Pichelli, whose previous Marvel work I loved. It featured swell covers by Kathryn’s husband, and seemed to have a high school plot that is right up own my personal escapist alley.

Liking—or being curious about, or interested in—a creative team isn’t generally a good enough reason to start buying X-Men comics if your apartment is ankle-deep in superhero comics already, but it looked like the sort of thing that would be worth flipping through in the comic shop. Maybe it would be an impulse buy the week it came out, or something to pick up later in the month if there was a slow Wednesday.

Marvel, as is their way, priced the book about a minor X-person by up-and-coming creators at $3.99.

So I filed the title away in my own personal List of Trades I Will Probably Buy Someday. It’s a big list, full of series like this I’m perhaps only curious about, as well as thousands of dollars worth of manga (Seriously, do you know how many hundreds of dollars it would take to catch up on just, say, Rumiko Takahashi’s 50+ volume Inuyasha and Ken Akamatsu’s 28-volume Negima!) and thousands of more dollars worth of deluxe reprint collections of classic comic strips.

There are a lot of modern Marvel series I decide to trade-wait, but that generally simply translates into “not buying…but maybe someday.” Hell, I might go to Japan some day.

Well, the last time I was perusing the graphic novel section at a library that has a pretty sizable one, I noticed the trade paperback collection of X-Men: Pixie Strikes Back there. So now I had the option to read it immediately for free, the option I took.

Having been scared by Marvel’s scary price tag, I went from wanting to buy it to maybe thinking I’d perhaps buy it to someday, and then, having seen it at the library, I went to definitely never buying it ever.

I think Marvel charges too much for their comics, and it ends up costing them sales of serial comics from the customers most primed to buy their serial comics, basically. And that ends my anecdote.

So is anyone still reading, and curious of what I thought of the book? (Which, by the way, bears a price tag of $14.99…the permanent, ad-free way to read this story is actually 97-cents cheaper than the comics themselves would have been! And let’s just check the old Amazon for a moment and see…it’s currently $10.19 there, $5.77 cheaper than the comics would have been. Sometimes it really amazes me that anyone even buys Marvel comics serially anymore.)

It is extremely Kathryn Immonen-y: A lot of fun ideas, strong characterization, snappy dialogue and, unfortunately, the assumption that you already know who the hell all these Marvel characters are and enough of their histories that you’ll be able to keep up with new chapters in their conflicts and emotionally invested in the results.

So as with Immonen’s Heralds, I felt a little like I was watching a pretty good foreign film with rotten sub-titles in broken English (Maybe the film is a badly-dubbed anime film with the English written by a native Chinese speaker). It looked good, and I could appreciate a lot of it, but I was often aware of the fact that I wasn’t getting something.The book opens with a splash page of five school girls doing a walk-and-talk down a school hallway, each introduced via boxes and arrows containing their full names, favorite quotes, and a few terse sentences of characterization.

Over the next few pages, it becomes clear something’s not quite right around the edges of the school, and then we find out why—these five girls are Pixie and four other X-teens, including Armor from Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men run, the teen girl version of Wolverine, and two others I’d never heard of.

The action is split from that inside the dream world Pixie and pals are trapped in, and the “real” world, where there first their fellow X-teens (I believe these are the characters from the post-Morrison version of New X-Men), and then Nightcrawler and Psylocke and finally Emma Frost all go looking for the missing girls.

Apparently, a big, bad bad, bad guy name Saturnine, whom seems to be a recurring X-villain but is also a demon, has captured them, and is using Pixie’s pixie-dust power to keep the girls in a dream state in order to draw out Pixie’s mom, who is actually the queen of fairy.

It succeeds, but first Pixie’s mom runs into the X-folks, so when she shows up to battle the army of demons for her daughters, the X-Men all do too.

Oh, and there are two dim-headed, scantily-clad, psychic power girls descended from Mastermind involved somehow, too. I think they’re Pixie’s half-sisters…?

As you can probably tell, I was pretty shaky on a lot of the background, but after an issue or two and I lost that “Damn, I need a program to read this thing” feeling, I rather enjoyed it.

The mix of fantasy stuff with mutant stuff seemed a little off the X-Men’s beaten path, similar to when they do stories about space pirates or Hell or whatever, but it was also kind of refreshing. And while a lot of the kids were more or less indistinguishable, Immonen gave the adult heroes pretty strong voices.

Here characters were charismatic, making them fun to spend time with, and thus read about.

Pichelli’s artwork seemed slightly weaker here than I’ve seen in the past, and I think it was something to do with Christina Strain’s colors over it. There’s a lot of varying textures to the different subjects, and some of those textures look a little forced.

For example, it’s clear that the guy made out of rock or the demon covered in scales have different textures than the smooth-skinned teens in spandex; the mottled, grainy wash of color given them is unnecessary. It’s like trying to communicate while shouting really loud, when talking does just fine. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Pichelli’s characters are abstracted, they are certainly simplified, and she leaves quite a bit for the reader’s mind to fill in, but, if the details aren’t always there in the linework, Strain seems to add it with shadows and shines.

It’s not bad work, of course, but it makes for a less appealing-looking work than it might have been with more reserved coloring, particularly during several scenes set in a dark club, at a school dance and in a mysterious, dark place where the kidnap-ees are being held.

So that’s X-Men: Pixie Strikes Back, a pretty good, fairly entertaining super-comic that Marvel Comics seems to be trying to prevent people from reading, for some reason.

"Is that Baby Spider-Man?"

—My mom, upon seeing the cover of Spider-Man: Amazing

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Meanwhile, in Las Vegas...

I have reviews of two graphic novels in this week's Las Vegas Weekly, the Halloween issue. The books are Eric Hobbs and Noel Tuazon's The Broadcast, set during Orson Welles' Halloween War of the Worlds performance, and Scott Snyder, Stephen King and Rafael Albuquerque's American Vampire Vol. 1, which is, obviously, about vampires. You can read them here.

I liked 'em both, something which sorta surprised me regarding American Vampire, given how far I figured I was from the target audience (True fact: I have never, ever, ever read a book by Stephen King before, barring a failed attempt in junior high to try and read The Stand ; American Vampire was actually the longest piece of King's fiction-writing I've ever read). Of the three creators, Albuquerque was the only one whose work I was familiar with prior to reading. He does a pretty incredible job too; I don't know if he simply massively improved in the last few years or was super-inspired by the material and rose to meet it or what, but as much as I liked his previous work, his American Vampire art seemed a good ten degrees stronger.

As for The Broadcast, if you're intrigued by the premise, but not convinced by the cover art, do yourself a favor and check out this online preview, which gives a much better idea of what Tuazon's work looks like (So too does his entry on the Top Shelf website supporting his Top Shelf 2.0 contributions and, of course, his own blog. The cover of the The Broadcast is actually by the extremely talented—but quite different from Tuazon!—Francesco Francavilla.

Meanwhile, at Blog@Newsarama...

I have reviews of the first volumes of two new manga series from Tokyopop up at Blog@Newsarama: Yuuki Fujimoto's The Stellar Six of Gingacho and Hiroshi Kubota's Summoner Girl. You can go read them if you like.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A few words about a few new-ish logos

I like this logo. I think it's madness to launch a sixth and seventh ongoing monthly starring Batman (of which this title would be one), and I think it's confidence-bordering-on-madness to use "The Dark Knight" in it's title, constantly begging readers to subconsciously compare its contents against Frank Miller and company's The Dark Knight Returns and the last Batman movie, and if I were writer/artist David Finch, I'd rather have a title that lowered rather than raised expectations (Batman: Not That Bad maybe, or Batman: The Capable Crusader, perhaps).

But I think whoever designed the logo for the series did a rather swell job of it. I'm not sure how it will age—it doesn't seem to be a necessarily timeless design, and I may think better of what's going on with the N and the I in the future—but when I first saw it, I thought "Neat" and "Cool," and it was actually the first time I had positive thoughts about the series (I don't care for Finch's artwork, and the work I've seen most recently, his cover work for DC on titles like Brightest Day and Action Comics, has been pretty awful).

I like this one too. It's from the wraparound cover for Justice League of America #50. It's super-simple, just the JLA logo altered so that the name of the team of their evil opposites is in the shield instead of their name. Familiar things that looks only slightly different than usual can often be very appealing though, like an Elseworlds version of a Superman costume, or Cap'n Crunch's "crunch berries" going red and green during the Christmas holiday season. I'd probably buy a comic book with that logo. I probably wouldn't understand the book, but I'd probably buy it.

I don't like this logo. I'm not entirely sure's the B and the two A's I don't care for. And, to a lesser extent, the W. The font and the shapes seem appropriate for the character and the setting, but...I don't know. Something about it just doesn't grab me.

I don't like this logo either. It looks very corporate, and like something that would be found on an expensive, mass-produced product, which makes it somewhat appropriate for the Batman Incorporated concept (as I understand it, anyway). But appropriate or not, it's still pretty ugly...Batman's got a pretty boss symbol, no matter how you tweak the shape and the edges, but breaking the bat-symbol in half, and the thin, light-colored line on a bigger-than-usual oval make for a very, very un-Batman-like bat-symbol.

Looks a little better in red. Maybe it will grow on me.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

"Hey party people, it's Charlie B"

If you're not addicted to ABC's Dancing With The Stars like, um, some comics bloggers I could name, then you may not have seen this year's commercial for the annual airing of 1966's It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, featuring a rapping Charlie Brown.

You are lucky.

You can see and hear it by clicking here (for now anyway; note you'll probably have to see a short ad before the ad for special).

Here are the lyrics:
Hey party people, it's Charlie B
Bringing Halloween Thursday to ABC
Raking leaves
and rolling on a pumpkin
trick or treat
then the party gets thumpin'
Lucy's getting bossy
Snoopy's feeling saucy
and things are getting crazy with my Peanuts posse
But where is Linus? This party's posh
He's waiting in the field for a mythical squash


Man, I hope Marvel hasn't already done this themselves...

(It seems like someone must have somewhere, but a half hour of Googling terms like "Frog Warriors Three" and "Warriors Three as Frogs" yielded no results.) Anyway, this is just a reminder that every Tuesday afternoon at Blog@Newsarama I have a column running down some of the more interesting (to me, and/or Newsarama readers) new releases of the week, complete with a colored pencil-on-index cartoon. You can see this week's 'Twas the Night Before Wednesday... by clicking here.

(And if, for some reason, you like that, um, level of artwork, humor and lettering, then you should really hurry up and buy a damn copy of my self-published comic book, My Pet Halfling).

Monday, October 25, 2010

Comic shop comics: Oct. 20

Batman and Robin #15 (DC Comics) Everything comes to a head—again—in Grant Morrison’s years-long Batman epic in the final scene of this issue, which seems like it may just be the surprise, dramatic return of original Batman Bruce Wayne from the dead/his exile in the fourth dimension, but what should have been a blast lands with a thud, given we’ve already seen Bruce Wayne running around in a handful of goofy one-shots with double colon titles and that Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #6, which should have come out before this scene, is (at least) a few weeks away yet.

That disappointment aside—and it sure feels like Morrison’s run on Batman has been full of disappointment, with so many issues of it being potentially great but for something or other—this is a typically strong issue from Morrison, with quick, sharp characterization and hysterical plotting played straight.

Frazier Irving’s artwork is powerful, powerful stuff, although I don’t always like the way his human faces turn out.

This is a pretty astounding page though, as much for the pacing of the scenes that precede and follow it as for what’s actually on the page:

Brightest Day #12 (DC) Woah hey, this just might be the best issue of the series so far. As I’ve mentioned repeatedly, the strongest storyline of the book’s half-dozen or so has been the Martian Manhunter one, which features the best art by far (by pencil artist Patrick Gleason and…I’m not sure who’s inking. Gleason, sure. Maybe Tom Nguyen and or Christian Alamy?). This issue is devoted almost entirely to that storyline, so there’s plenty of great art.

J’onn J’onnz has returned to Mars, only to find it partially terraformed into something livable, and the evil alien serial killer lady waiting for him, with a romantic dinner all laid out:Wine, turkey, gravy and a tray of chocolate sandwich cookies…the way to J’onn’s heart, apparently.

Since she’s the last female Green Martian, and J’onn’s the last male Green Martian (with the exception of his evil brother Malefic, who is supposedly dead but probably not really), she thinks they really oughta start doing it in order to repopulate Mars. J’onn’s not into this lady, who’s name is D’Kay (like “decay,” get it?!) because she’s a killer and all, so they argue, she unloads her origin story in what looks like a 1,500-word splash-page, and then they fight a lot, physically and mentally, which allows Gleason to draw the whole damn Justice League fighting J’onn for a good three pages.J’onn ultimately loses, which leads to a neat scene where he things he punches Mars so hard with White Lantern power that he brings his race back to life, and he’s so happy to see his wife and child that it looks like he’s going to eat them:There’s a page of Dove and Deadman—the latter of whom really should shave and change clothes at some point—and three-pages of Firestorm and Black Lantern business, but, for the most part, this is an issue of a gorgeously drawn Martian Manhunter comic.

DC Comics Presents: Jack Cross #1 (DC) This is the very first one of the intriguing new format DC Comics Presents books I’ve actually held in my hands and read and…it’s a weird format.

It’s certainly enticing. At $7.99, this is around 100 pages and has a spine, making it something of a very cheap trade, although it’s in full-color and hasn’t been shrunk down to digest size at all, so the usual methods of turning comic books into cheap trades aren’t really in effect here. It does still have ads in it though, which is kind of weird. There aren’t very many ads overall and, in fact, there are so few that when one appears, it sort of sneaks up on you and surprises you, reminding you that you are not, in fact, reading a trade.

Retailer/Savage Critic Brian Hibbs already noted what seems to be an obvious flaw in the packaging of this particular volume, the fact that there’s nothing at all printed on the spine and that writer Warren Ellis’ name is nowhere on the cover, despite the fact that he’s a popular author who people tend to by books from.

As for the contents of the book?

It’s the complete four-issue run of what was originally intended to be an ongoing series, an Ellis-written, Gary Erskine-drawn action thriller about a sort of freelance anti-terrorist, that just never saw a fifth issue (Having read it, now I wonder why; did it sell abysmally or was DC uncomfortable with the politics or violence of it?).

It’s a very post-9/11 work, the title character being some sort of bad-ass black ops guy who has retired to help lead the anti-(Iraq) war movement who gets called in to deal with a particularly convoluted terrorist case, which involves a South African terrorist group, the CIA, the Department of Homeland Security, an Iraqi dissident and a rather Warren Ellis-y weapon of mass destruction.

It’s not generally the sort of thing that would interest me (beyond trying to parse the politics, which boil over into what sound like statements a few times), but it’s very well done. The plot flies along, there are enough twists and turns that I couldn’t stop turning pages until the end out of straight curiosity over what will happen next, and Erskine’s artwork is as wonderful as it always is.

He and Ellis do something weird with X-Ray-style images during certain action scenes, which are usually accompanied by a slowing down of time to a crawl from panel to panel that is…something different. The way they manipulate time in the sequences is cool, but I’m not sure the looks at the insides of guns being fired added much beyond something different to look at than the exterior of a gun.

There’s a complete plot to this story, but it still feels somewhat incomplete, like a pilot episode for a TV show that never got greenlit. There seems to be a lot more to the title character than gets explored here, although generous enough hints are given that one has an expectation that he’s not supposed to seem too mysterious for too long.

That is, no doubt, a symptom of an ongoing being turned into a four-issue miniseries. Being turned into a kinda sorta graphic novel five years later.

Justice League of America #50 (DC) Okay, I read a lot of DC superhero comic books, and I read a lot about DC superhero comic books on the Internet, but I’m not an editor of DC Comics, and thus am apparently not as up to speed with the goings-on of their cosmology as I could be (need to be?) to always understand what I’m reading.

So help me out here.

The Alexander Luthor from Infinite Crisis (and, presumably, Crisis On Infinite Earths is an entirely different character than the Alexander Luthor from JLA: Earth-2, right?

He’d have to be, wouldn’t he, if COIE/IC Luthor was off in that “heaven” dimension between the two crises, while we saw a Luthor in JLA: Earth-2? (And that one looked older and was also bald).

Well, not to get too spoiler-y here or anything, but apparently the Crime Syndicate from JLA: Earth-2 (Which is actually Earth-3 again, right?) has been in the DCU trying to bring “their” Lex Luthor back to life…and they take the body of the Crisis Luthor from the JLA to resurrect that.

I thought that was a different guy.

OR does it not really matter that their Earth has been destroyed and re-created a couple of times, and that there have been more than one Alexander Luthor from their Earth, because whatever it’s number designation, whatever it’s status (extant or not), it’s essentially the same world? Is that it? That would make story sense but, Jesus, that’s complicated.

That Byzantine complication aside, this is actually a pretty fun issue.

It’s basically Batman’s Angels—the JLA consisting of Batman Dick Grayson, Donna Troy, Jade, Supergirl and Jesse Quick; the other boys are absent—versus the Crime Syndicate, with Dr. Impossible and his Evil Fourth World counterparts finally pulling the trigger on whatever the heck they’ve been up to over the past few months (before Blackest Night sorta hijacked the plot for a bit).

It’s three teams of superheroes with conflicting goals, all fighting each other and about to fight a new threat who is presented as someone I should recognize, but I don’t (I know it’s not Charlton Heston, anyway) in an annual-or-bigger-sized special issue, all wonderfully drawn by Mark Bagley and just two inkers (But it took nine last time, for a shorter book? What?).

JLoA is still far from perfect, but it’s a lot better than it’s been in a very long time, and seemingly getting better and better. Hopefully now that Blackest Night and that JSoA crossover is out of the way and the new-new-new team line-up is in place, Robinson and Bagley can start doing their own thing for a while.

Neko Ramen Vol. 2: Curry Is Also Delicious! (Tokyopop) Okay, I'm only on page eight of this, so I can't really review it yet, but I got it at the comic shop this week, so I'm including it in here anyway. From those first eight pages though, it seems to be just as good as the first volume in the same ways that the first volume was good. So, um, you could maybe just re-read my review of that?

Spider-Man: Amazing (Marvel Comics) This is the first volume of the new Spider-Man series, which is the new title of Marvel Adventures Spider-Man, so this is apparently a collection meant to be read after Marvel Adventures Spider-Man Vol. 15, which I didn’t read, because God, who can follow this shit?

Like Marvel Adventures Spider-Man, Spider-Man is written by Paul Tobin and usually penciled by Matteo Lolli (three of these four comics are; Scott Koblish pencils the other), and it continues the various storylines and sub-plots from Marvel Adventures Spider-Man.

So why change the numbering and the title and, in the case of the collection, do away with numbering all together?

I have no idea. I was a bit lost, having missed a few issues, but it didn’t take long to catch back up. When writing about Tobin’s work on MA Spider-Man for the first time, I noted that he “does an excellent job of coming up with something that reads and feels new and original and fresh, while still maintaining enough of old school Spider-Man to feel right.” That’s still true. I also said that Lolli’s art was “a great pleasure to read.” That’s still true, too.

In this volume, a love interest for Gwen Stacy is introduced, Peter and Chat’s relationship gets cuter, the bad guys all use baseball bats and laser guns instead of gun-guns (which is kinda funny), Bullseye is mean to a cat, slaps a bunch of birds and then kills another bird in a gasp-inducing downer of a conclusion, The Blonde Phantom appears repeatedly, and a hair gel company is trying to track down Wolverine to get him to be a spokesman for their product.

I’d liken it to a more Ultimate version of the old Ultimate Spider-Man, one that makes a greater effort to do something new with the character, and certainly suggest it to anyone interested in Spider-Man but daunted by the adventures of the “real” Spider-Man.

I just wish Marvel didn’t make following the story so damn hard to do.

Superman/Batman #77 (DC) Look, I don’t know who you are exactly, writer Josh Williamson, but you have scripted a really great single-issue team-up comic.

With Superman just kind of meandering around real cities with J. Michael Straczynski and Eddy Barrows and Batman helping ink pages of Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #6, a different version of the World’s Finest team was needed to fill in this month, so Williamson paired Supergirl with Damian Wayne, the current Robin.

It’s all really rather straightforward. Supergirl discovers some grisly crime, like the sort they have in Gotham City, in Metropolis. She flies on over to Gotham to find a Bat-person to help her fight a grim and gritty crime, and ends up with Damian. The culprit turns out to be a Bat-villain, the most obvious one for a Halloween-themed issue (Hint: It’s not Calendar Man!)

But as straightforward as it is, it’s quite well executed. Damian is such an interesting character—Batman, only doucheier, in a little kid’s body—that he makes a great foil for pretty much any character, and he’s still new enough a character that it’s still exciting to see him interacting with super-characters outside his own franchise (Is this the first time Supergirl and Damian have met? I know there was that World’s Finest series, but I skipped that).

Williamson writes crisp, sharp dialogue, and does a fairly good job of defining the characters quickly and efficiently, while managing to tell a complete story in just 22 pages. Perhaps the callbacks to Blackest Night were unnecessary, but if you’ve read that series, they work here (and given how much better BN sells than Superman/Batman, it’s probably safe to say that almost everyone who reads the latter also read the former).

The art is by Ale Garza,with Oliver Nome inking, and this struck me as some of his best work (that I’ve seen). He does a great job of designing certain panels so that they seem bursting with intense energy, not by over-drawing them, but simply by directing all of the lines that make up a certain figure in a certain direction so that they suggest an entire arc of motion despite being a static image.

It’s rather animated looking, I guess, and I like Graza’s open, expressive designs of the two leads, whose youthfulness is in sharp contrast to all of the other, adult characters.

Oh, and I love his Batmobile:I want to talk a little bit more about Garza’s work on this issue later in the week, as this issue gave him an opportunity to offer his own design of one of my favorite comic book characters, whose endless design variations are a subject of some interest to me.

Tiny Titans #33 (DC) I’m sure I’ve read an issue of Tiny Titans before and then immediately took to the Internet to declare that it was the very best issue of Tiny Titans ever. In fact, I’m sure I’ve done that six, seven eight times already.

Well, I feel like doing it again: This is the best issue of Tiny Titans ever.

I’m not sure how to go about backing that statement up however, other than noting that I laughed out loud more often while reading this particular issue than I have while reading any previous ones in memory.

I suppose I could try to communicate which gags I found funny, and try to explain why, but that would really only serve to ruin them for you if you haven’t read the issue already, and I think I’ve done enough of that already.

Suffice it to say that this is “The All Robin Issue,” so it’s full of Robin, the other Robins (Tim, Jason Toddler, Robin Robin, the robin who dresses like Robin), the tinier Tiny Titans all dressed like Robin, the introduction of new characters Stephanie, Carrie and Cassandra (who seems poised to unseat Bumblebee, Kid Devil and even Lil’ Barda as the most adorable Tiny Titan), Robin’s sweet Photoshop-ed in toys, Alfred’s pimp status, alternate, Return of Bruce Wayne-style Batmen (I like Baker Batman, personally), The Red Hood and, of course, the introduction of the Al Ghul family:Man, if I was only allowed to read one DC comic book a month, I’d have a hard time picking between JLoA (which has the most heroes-per-page value) and this, which, at its worse, is a lot of fun and, at it’s best, just makes me giddy.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

If you only buy one superhero comic this week, make sure it's Tiny Titans #33

After all, it's the only one that's got Tiny Cassandra in it:

That's right, Cassandra: AKA, Batgirl II:
I know that Dan DiDio and other DC types have mentioned plans for the Cassandra Cain Batgirl in the near future, and always stress that they want to make sure they get the character right this time.

Well I hope those plans are letting Art Baltazar and Franco do pretty much whatever they want with Batgirl, because it doesn't get much righter than this.

This week in altered DC Comics covers:

A few days ago over at Blog@Newsarama, I noted that DC had removed an upside-down cross from Frank Quitely's cover image for Batman and Robin #15 between the time the book was originally solicited and the time it was actually printed and shipped to shops (something I had idly suspected may occur when I first saw the cover, given a few other recent-ish examples of DC removing potentially offensive to someone imagery from their covers featuring Batman or Superman).

Well today I got a small stack of books from my nearest comic shop (reviews tomorrow; I'm still reading a few graphic novels that were in the mix), and had a good chance to study the wraparound Crime Syndicate vs. Justice League cover by Ethan Van Sciver.

It looks like this: It's not perfect, but it is a pretty exciting cover image, with really big, colorful figures beating on each other in exciting action poses. If you read Bleeding Cool because you have to at least occasionally check it out for work (because you are a semi-professional comics blogger), you may recall this post by Rich Johnson from way back in August, in which he pointed out that artist EVS apparently slipped a little coded message into the image as it was originally solicited, with the an S, a T, an F and a U among the letters on the sign Donna Troy was being punched through, reading STFU, an acronym for, you presumably already know, Shut The Fuck Up.

Well, if you compare the two images, you'll see that DC decided to remove the F and change the U into a J, removing the coded message.

Obviously, like a the other cover changes discussed in my post at Blog@, it's not a very big deal, and, if anything, is somewhat comforting, as it let's us know for sure that, yes, someone somewhere at DC does look at the covers to see if there's anything that might give anyone something to freak out or complain about or launch a campaign against corrupting funny books over. (At least some of the time, anyway—I'm not sure why whoever takes the STFUs and upside-down crosses off the covers doesn't also nix the blood-puking covers).

It's kind of too bad that they just stopped with those letters, however. I mean, if someone was going to go to the trouble of fixing part of this cover, why'd they stop there? Why not ask EVS to do something about Ultraman's weird right arm? Or the fact that EVS drew a different version of Power Ring than the one that appears inside the book? (This Power Ring is the Kyle Rayner equivalent from Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's JLA: Earth-2 original graphic novel; the Power Ring in the story is the original, Hal Jordan equivalent, back from the dead just as Hal is).

Or the just plain insane amount of cleavage Dona Troy is showing?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Review: Soldier Zero #1

It’s always a little difficult approaching books like this, with a celebrity creator’s name above the title—or in this case, to the immediate right of the title.

It’s especially difficult in this case because, unlike most celebrity creators with a vanity comic book of some sort, this celebrity creator is actually a long-time comic book writer—perhaps the most famous comic book writer still working, and certainly a giant of the American comic book’s history. One would expect Stan Lee to have greater input into this book he created but didn’t write than…well, I won’t name names but, you know, some of those other comics similarly sold by their creator-who-didn’t-write-it as much as the work of the actually, credited writer. Or artist. Or creation.

And then when one factors in Lee’s own troubled legacy in comic book character creation…

I can’t tell by reading this issue exactly what Lee did here. He’s credited as “Grand Poobah,” while Paul Cornell gets a “written by” credit and Javier Pina an “art by” credit (traditionally, the first writer and artists to work on a character or concept are credited as the creator, although obviously this is a special case). Dave Johnson has a “Soldier Zero Character Design” credit, and there’s an editor and editor-in-chief credited as well, so Lee’s not exactly doing what he did for Marvel back in the day either.

What is clear from the work itself, however, is that Lee is, at the very least, definitely serving as inspiration for Cornell. This feels a lot like a Stan Lee comic, and it reads a lot like a Stan Lee comic.

Our hero is a typical Lee character, a hero with feet of clay, someone who’s powers bring with them a whole set of problems. The characters all talk in somewhat snappy, Stan Lee dialogue, although definitely toned down from 1960’s, height-of-his-power Stan Lee’s version of snappy dialogue. There’s a sense of humor about the whole thing, as well as a sense of genuine, “Aw shucks!” affected awe. The comic book takes itself seriously, but not too seriously; sure, there’s a semi-soap opera sense of melodrama, but the characters are somewhat aware of it, so it doesn’t read like camp.

The titular hero and his origin, which has only just begun to unfold in this first issue, will likely call to mind elements of plenty of other superheroes and their origins—Silver Age Green Lantern, the current Blue Beetle, Captain Marvel Jr. and X-O Manowar sprung most immediately to mind while reading, and it’s worth noting that there are elements of those characters that are derivative of other characters as well. All-new superheroes just aren’t that easy to create seven decades after Superman, I guess.

It’s the guy inside the alien super-suit that gets the most panel-time here, though, and he seems a bit more interesting a character.

He’s Stewart Trautmann, a former soldier who served in Afghanistan, and, one terrible injury later, is now a wheelchair-bound astronomy professor and anti-war activist. He has his eye on a cute co-ed who likes him back, but just when they get some alone time to talk, during a meteor shower, wouldn’t you know that “PHA-BLAM!”, the Soldier Zero suit falls to earth right on top of them, bonding with Stewart.The suit is white with red highlights, and while it doesn’t really pop all that much off of the cover above (or most of the many covers this issue is shipping with, actually), Johnson gave it a kind of neat not-really-a-face face design, one-part symbol, one-part traditionally looking earth-armor. It also has mismatched hands—five fingers on the right hand, three on the left—and, most strikingly, animal-like legs that make him look a bit like a sci-fi satyr from the waist down.

This first issue obviously doesn’t reinvent the superhero wheel, but there seems to be some potential here, and someone interested in superheroes but looking for something beyond the two major flavors they typically come in from direct market comics should find a lot to like about this.

It’s old-school without being old-fashioned, and familiar without being a pastiche.

It’s all-ages, which didn’t really jump out at me the first time I read it, but thinking about it in comparison to most of the DCU and Marvel Universe books, this is a comic book one could recommend to a 12-year-old, a teenager or a grown-up without really worrying about whether or not it was appropriate (Which isn’t important to individual readers, obviously, but may be to retailers and librarians or anyone making recommendations).

It’s other advantage over DC and Marvel books is the fact that it is new, and, so far, taking place in it’s own little fictional universe, so there’s a sense of getting in on the ground floor with this. It’s one of a suite of superhero books that Boom and Stan Lee are putting out together (There’s a six-page preview of the next one, The Traveller by Mark Waid and Chad Hardin, included in the back of this issue), and I suppose it’s possible that they will all connect in the future in some way, making for a new, modern, well-tended shared universe setting.

Unfortunately, if Soldier Zero boasts several advantages to set it apart from other direct market super-books, it shares at least a few of their weaknesses, including a steep price tag of $3.99 for 22-pages and, if I’m counting right, nine different covers. Three of those are listed by letter, another three are “retailer incentive variants” and then there are three more, at least two of which are apparently exclusive to particular retailers.

I kinda like Paul Rivoche’s Midtown Comics variant cover, but jeez, nine covers promoting speculation (directly or indirectly) can’t possibly be a sign of a healthy direct market…

Review: The Muppet Show Comic Book #11

I’ve been avoiding writing about The Muppet Show Comic Book lately, primarily because I’ve been trying not to read single issues of it and instead enjoy it in the trade collections Boom has been putting out with clockwork regularity, but also because I assume readers get bored hearing me repeat how excellent the same book is on a monthly basis.

I had to make an exception for #11 though, because how can you say no to that cover?
Beaker as Frankenstein’s monster, his dead eyes just begging me to read this issue, trade-waiting be damned!

So, um, not to bore you by repeating how excellent Roger Langridge’s Muppet Show Comic Book is or anything, but Roger Langridge’s Muppet Show Comic Book? It’s still excellent.

Langridge continues to exploit the storyline backstage, skits-on-the-stage format, here making most of the on-stage skits more-or-less integral to the backstage storyline…everything fits in this comic book in a way that is both satisfying and reassuring.

It’s a dark and stormy night at the Muppet Theatre, made all the darker by Doctor Honeydew’s latest experiment: Beaker Mark 2, a robot Beaker designed to “take the load off poor Beaker’s tired, tired shoulders." (This being Honeydew and Beaker, of course, it’s followed quickly by a Mark 3 and Mark 4).

Honeydew’s power surges (and a few unlikely coincidences) also lead to Miss Piggy sporting Elsa Lanchester hair, Gonzo getting an Igor-esque hunchback, and his chickens turning into a pitchfork-bearing mob.

On-stage, a Frankenstein’s monster Muppet serves as the guest-star, visiting Vetrinarian’s Hospital and singing a duet with Sweetums and, in one rather neat panel, appearing as part of the Frankenbop Quartet, four Frankenstein’s monsters, including Dick Breifer’s funny version of the monster* in a stealth cameo.

I’m not sure if this is Langridge’s best issue of the series so far (It’s hard to beat that first one, with the “Holy shit, I can’t believe he’s doing this!” revelation of a one-man comic-book production of the Muppet Show TV show that was both faithful and transformed, in keeping with the spirit of the corporate-controlled characters, but highly idiosyncratic…or that heart-breaking Gonzo issue), but it’s gotta be one of the better ones, and it was certainly my favorite so far (Perhaps on account of the fact that it featured so prominently my personal favorite characters).

As a loosely holiday-themed, done-in-one issue—not that there’s ever too much continuity or soap opera in these things, but some storylines do carry over from issue to issue—The Muppet Show Comic Book #11 seem like a perfect jumping on or testing-out issue. So if you’ve yet to try out Langdrige’s Muppet comics, this is an ideal one to sample. Even if you didn’t grow up with the characters and even if you don’t have much interest in them, if you’re in to great cartooning and great terrible jokes, then you should dig it.

*Speaking of which, this recently came out. I bet it’s pretty good.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Recently seen on the Cleveland Plain Dealer funnies pages:

I don't know, I think she looks pretty good in red and white, and the maple leaf tiara's nice. To see more of Dan Piraro's work, check out his website (I particularly enjoyed the sketchbook section and the gallery of animal rights-related cartoons).

This installment of Funky Winkerbean appeared the same day in the same paper's funny pages: I was quite surprised to see the word "whore" there. Sure, Old Les was using it to refer to himself, and in a joking, self-deprecating was, as part of a metaphor construction, but still—whore. Remember during the endless 2008 Democratic primary campaign, when the Clintons and Hilary Clinton's campaign feigned a freak-out over some goofy pundit-type used a construction of the phrase "pimp out" to refer to Chelsea Clinton working for the campaign?

"Whore" is an even stronger word than "pimp," isn't it? And newspaper comic strip readers even more prone to blushing, fainting and hand-wringing than political-types, right?

Once I got past the use of the word whore though, the whole thing just sort of confused me. If you're not following the ins-and-outs of Les Moore's life as seen in Funky, he is apparently promoting a book he wrote about his late wife's death. For some reason, this PR or agent lady says he needs to do interviews in order to secure blurbs for his book, but blurb's don't come from interviews, they come from reviews. Reviews, or the publisher simply asking someone famous to provide them with a blurb to put on the back cover.

Maybe it works differently in the Funki-verse, but an author interview is actually a really hard place to get a blurb out of, since interviews are more often than not neutral on the quality of the work.

Anyway, look—there's the word "whore" in the funnies!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Marvel's January previews reviewed

I apologize for the lack of update yesterday. I had planned on posting this last night, but, for whatever reason, Marvel was a day late releasing their solicitations for comics they plan to ship in January. Well, they're up now. You can see the whole shebang here, and you can read some of my thoughts on some of 'em below.

Written by MIKE CAREY
Pencils by TBD
Variant Cover by OLIVIER COIPEL
Mutantkind’s final war starts here.
If you don’t know which side you’re on, check your DNA.
32 PGS./Rated A ...$3.99

The final war? Really? I find that hard to believe, Marvel Solicitation.

Written by Laurell K. Hamilton & Jess Booth
Pencils by Ron Lim
Cover by Brett Booth
BEST-SELLING AUTHOR LAURELL K. HAMILTON’S HEROINE IS BACK! Morgues, by a rule, are pretty quiet places. But in a world of vamps and the rising dead, they can be positively hopping. Join animator Anita Blake as her search for a serial killer takes her to the most dangerous after-hours joint in St. Louis!
32 PGS./Mature ...$3.99

Anita Black is an animator? She works in the animation industry? Huh. I thought she was a vampire hunter or private investigator of some kind.

Penciled by RIK LEVINS
What has brown fur, fangs and a star-spangled shield? Why, it’s Capwolf! When old Cap foes Dredmund Druid and Deadly Nightshade begin mass-producing werewolves, Captain America investigates—only to become one himself! How will the world’s greatest Avenger get out of this one? Featuring a rare battle between Cap and Wolverine, and guest-starring Cable, Wolfsbane and Doctor Druid! Collecting CAPTAIN AMERICA #402-408.
136 PGS./Rated A ...$14.99

I'm really quite curious about this storyline, although it seems like one better encountered in a back-issue bin or a black an Essential volume. Have any of you guys read this story? Is it as awesome as a story about Captain America turning into a werewolf sounds?

CHAOS WAR #5 (of 5)
Penciled by KHOI PHAM
THIS IS IT!! THE MARVEL UNIVERSE'S LAST STAND! The Chaos King unleashes his ultimate attack against reality as we know it -- and our survival depends on a boy, his god, and their ragtag band of allies: The Mighty Thor! The Incredible Hulks! The Dead (and Living?) Avengers! The X-Men! Alpha Flight! But are they enough to stand against THE ANTI-ETERNITY ... The force that seeks to negate all existence itself? In this issue, the universe dies and everyone wins! ...What?
32 PGS./Rated T+ ...$3.99

Huh. I know comic book super hero stories often unintentionally echo one another, as much by coincidence as anything else, but, from afar, this Pak and Van Lente punch 'em up seems almost uncanny in it's echoing of DC's recent Blackest Night thingee.

Not only is there the whole dead heroes coming back to life thing going on...
...but the phrasing of the conflict here really sounds an awful lot like the conflict between Nekron/pre-life and life in Blackest Night, doesn't it?

I'd really like to catch up on this title in trade eventually, but I'm afraid it's big enough that, like a handful of Marvel's other recent-ish mini-events (Shadowland, that X-Men vs. vampires thing), I find the prospect of figuring out what to read and in what order sort of daunting.

Wow, not only is Kyle Baker drawing Deadpool, but he's drawing Cable too? Huh.

Written by Rick Spears
Art by Philip Bond
Cover by Humberto Ramos
Watch out Marvel U, the Bovine Blood Beast is back!" The Merc with a Mouth meets the "The Cow with a Cape. Gaze in horror, dear reader, upon the fiendish experiments inflicted upon Deadpool and Bessie the Vampire Cow by the malevolent Dr. Kilgore in the name of mad science and bear witness to their terrible revenge! Nothing on earth can prepare you for the horror that lurks within these pages.
32 PGS./Parental Advisory ...$2.99

This bizarrely-numbered series has been the most interesting of the many, many Deadpool comics being published these days. The characters chosen for the dozen or so issues so far seem like they were plucked from a pool of comics bloggers' favorites—Hercules, Ghost Rider, U.S. Ace, Captain Britain, Punisher-as-Frankenstein, Machine Man, Gorilla-Man—and the creative pool has been a deep and wide one.

This one looks especially promising. It features Howard the Duck character Hellcow, is written by check-out-everything-he-writes writer Rick Spears (Teenagers From Mars, Repo, Black Metal) and is drawn by check-out-everything-he-draws artist Philip Bond (Kill Your Boyfriend, The Invisibles, Vimanarama, Angel and The Ape).

So as sick as I am of Deadpool, as disappointed as I've been in the handful of issues of this I've read, I'm kinda curious about this one.

Cover by PHIL NOTO
If Wolverine jumped off a bridge, would you jump too? That's the question Namor must answer when the old Kings of Atlantis escape Hell only to drag him back down with them – into a burning desert wasteland. Can even the X-Men help him now? And with its king missing, what will happen to New Atlantis?
32 PGS./Rated T+ ...$2.99

I'm not fond of Olivetti's more recent art, but this sounds kinda cool...even the shopworn superhero-goes-to-hell might be fun given my affection for the lead character (Nice job bringing it up and dismissing it in the solicitation copy too, Mr. Solicitation Copy Writer).

How about that Chris Samnee, huh? Wow.

That's...that's hair on top of that dude's head, right?

Pretty sweet cover image, Amanda Conner.

Written by JASON AARON
Pencils & Cover by RON GARNEY
Villian Variant Cover by ED McGUINNESS
Captain America meets his ultimate nemesis—the Captain America of the Vietnam War! As new enemies face off, old secrets from the super soldier project are revealed. From the superstar Wolverine: Weapon X creative team of Jason Aaron and Ron Garney, get ready for a hard hitting story of one man’s quest to serve his country...and the sacrifices he must make.
32 PGS./Rated T+ ...$3.99

I'm so out of the Ultimate/Ultimate Comics loop now that I wonder if I can even pick up a random Ultimate trade and understand and/or enjoy it, or if will all be like a foreign language to me now? I do like that Aaron/Garney team though...

Penciled by JUAN JOSE RYP
Variant cover by MARKO DJURDJEVIC
“Contagion, Part One: This Little Curiosity,” PART 2 OF 6
It’s cover-to-cover blood-soaked action as the most extreme Wolverine monthly ever continues! Wolverine has never faced an opponent quite like Contagion, who becomes a much bigger problem if he's killed! But first, Logan must get past the aptly named Unkillables. Round one: Madcap. Whatever you do, don’t look into his eyes.
32 PGS./Parental Advisory ...$3.99

One of the very first Marvel comics I ever bought was an issue of Ghost Rider featuring this Madcap person drawn by Bret Blevins. I don't remember digging the comic very much, but I was in the shop looking for something to read, and I'd like the characters name and costume design.

I wonder if this series will be worth reading in trade next year? Juan Jose Ryp drawing a Wolverine series oughta be something to see, right? Especially if they're promising "the most extreme Wolverine monthly ever," right?

Written by Peter David
Penciled by Emanuela Lupacchino
Cover by David Yardin
The suicide of a high school student triggers X-Factor's most personal case as X-Factor is hired to learn the identities of the bullies who drove the student to take his own life. But once they have the names, do they turn that information over to the authorities...or to the student's angry family, who may well take punishment into their own hands?
32 PGS./Rated T+ ...$2.99

Well, that sure sounds timely, doesn't it? Almost creepily so, really.