Sunday, January 30, 2011

Comic shop comics: Jan. 12-19

The All-New Batman: The Brave and the Bold #3 (DC Comics) Here’s a villain team-up so natural, so obvious, so perfect that it seems inevitable—did it really take until the year 2010 for someone to have Batman’s Lewis Carroll-obsessed villain The Mad Hatter team with Flash rogue The Mirror Master to create a Through The Looking Glass world…?

That’s the basic set-up here. The bad guys “fashioned this entire Looking Glass World out of the Mirror Master’s solid light and [The Hatter’s] genius!” It’s an elaborate trap to keep Batman and The Flash trapped with the mad Mad Hatter and a bunch of Lewis Carroll characters (faithfully all chosen from Looking Glass, rather than the first Alice book) while Mirror Master uses his amazing powers to…commit acts of burglary.

Three issues into their run, Sholly Fisch, Rick Burchett and Dan Davis have thus far been able to accomplish the ultimate in serial comic book-ing—making each issue better than the previous one.

Fisch’s script is heavy on gags that are natural to the characters and their relationships (that is, it’s really funny, but it’s not a comedy).And it’s remarkably faithful to the source material, certainly more faithful than, say, Walt Disney Studios, which provided U.S. pop culture with the most pervasive version of the Alice stories, and just went back to that particular well with a rather popular, even less faithful live-action film last year.

Also, Fisch writes scenes like this for Burchett to draw:As impressive as the script is, Burchett once again steals the show (something comics make it so very easy for great artists to do). I know I’ve repeatedly mentioned that for me one of the great pleasures of the animated series that provided the basis for this and the previous volume of Batman: The Brave and The Bold was the fact that the producers designed character to reflect the particular art styles of their creators, and put them all together in a shared space that made work from folks like Dick Sprang, C.C. Beck, Jack Cole, Jack Kirby and others seem not only compatible, but complimentary.

In the previous issue, we got to see Burchett’s version of a Kane/Sprang Batman teaming up with various Beck-derived characters (And one Mac Raboy-designed character). Here we get to see Burchett’s version of that Batman again, a more or less original Flash (at least, it doesn’t look too much like anyone else’s Flash; additionally, the script is coy about whether it’s Wally or Barry), a Mad Hatter in the style of the David Wayne-played one from the ‘60s TV series, and, best of all, panel after panel of Burchett’s simplified, cover versions of John Tenniel’s illustrations for the original Carroll stories.I suppose it’s possible that there are people out there who aren’t as interested in Batman comics, John Tenniel’s illustrations for Carroll’s Alice books, and how the latter can be transferred into the latter as I am. Those people will probably disagree with my ultimate assessment of this comic but, here goes: This is the best thing ever.

Brightest Day #18 (DC)Er, I’m sure she didn’t mean it like-Uh, I’m not sure that came out quite right there, I mean, context is everything, right?

And the context of the scene in which the White Lantern Entity Thing tells Hawkman and Hawkwoman that the champion-to-be must be "serviced" first is that, uh, Hawkman and Hawkwoman were just about to have sex with one another, when Deadman appeared wearing a White Lantern costume and White Lantern ring, and the White Lantern Entity Thing said that to the Hawks.

This is a pretty weird comic, isn't it?

Justice League of America #53 (DC) Based on some of the faces in this particular issue, Mark Bagley apparently was penciling it on his way out the door of the DC offices, on his way to catch a cab to drive him across town to Marvel HQ.

Example? Okay, look at Rex the Wonder Dog’s horrifying, half-human face:Brrrr!

This is Bagley’s last issue on the series, and the last issue of the four-part “Omega” story, which teamed the new-ish Justice League line-up with the Crime Syndicate to take on a bizarre new villain.

It’s a nice send-off, complete with a “Good luck, Mark!” in the bottom right hand corner of the title-page, but it’s still a damn shame. It really feels like writer James Robinson and Bagley were just starting to really coalesce, and make JLoA their book—their run, like everyone else’s to precede them on this volume, has been regularly interrupted by crossovers and reactions to events in other series that are apparently given primacy over JLoA—and this story read a lot more like a new beginning than an ending.

I’m not convinced Bagley’s replacement can do anywhere near as good a job and, to be honest, I’m struggling to think of a better artist than Bagley at DC at the moment for JLoA, particularly if Robinson continues to write it as he has, with the entire DCU comprising the cast, rather than seven or so superheroes. Bagley’s year on Trinity put him in the position of one of the few artists who has drawn just about every DC character there is more or less continuously.

I just flipped through the issue again, and noted the unusual lay-outs in the title, with the action always moving horizontally across spreads rather than up and down. It gives the book a very fast-paced and expansive feel, and I’m not so sure it’s the sort of thing that you can drop just anyone into and have them replicate it.

Ah well.

The climax is a fairly satisfying one, with everyone acting true to themselves after seeming to act differently in early chapters as part of various plots and machinations. I think the specifics of how the League defeats the Omega Man is probably a bit of a cheat—it sort of depends on you knowing what the Tangent Green Lantern’s specific power is—but it does allow Robinson to temporarily rehabilitate a long-gone hero who had become a villain in his more recent appearances.

I was a little bummed to learn that Blue Jay isn’t joining the Justice League, but gets a nice send-off too, and heads in a direction that could potentially yield a pretty cool story, if anyone ever decides to do it (Grant Morrison’s send-off for his Ultramarine Corps/Global Guardians team in JLA: Classified #1-3 had similar potential, but it was never followed up on, and several of those heroes later appeared as if they didn’t actually follow up on it anyway).

(Sorry, trying to be vague-ish, for the sake of not ruining anything about the story).

Knight and Squire #4 (DC) Beryl has her first date with that Shrike kid, and it starts off so badly that The Knight’s armor wandering around by itself attacking people is actually an improvement for all concerned.

Paul Cornell’s script has a lot of fun bits in it, from Knight and Squire’s cavalier attitudes about their secret identities, to their American version of Alfred, to the way The Knight’s origin gets told and themes are presented as anvil-obvious metaphors and dismissed with a quick witticism. Jimmy Broxton’s art remains crystal clear and ultra-enjoyable, and I look forward to seeing much more of his work in many more places in the near future.

I agree with the heroes—we can trust this Shrike fellow. But that little bird we see sharing a few panels with him? I don’t trust it one bit.

Namor: The First Mutant #6 (Marvel Comics) Wait, this panel isn’t light-boxed from a photo, or run through a computer filter, or used as an element in a computer-created collage or…anything.It’s just a photo of a desert.

The preceding panel features some drawn bones on top of a photo of the desert, giving it a weird collage effect. The panel that follows it has Namor’s feet and legs standing on a photo of the desert floor.I suppose if artist Olivietti put drawings of Namor and the other characters on top of straight photos throughout the book, it might be fun in a weird kind of way, like a Marvel superhero version of James Kochalka’s Dragon Puncher.

But no such luck. Sometimes Olivetti just plain throws a photo down on the page, and Marvel prints it. Sometimes he provides art work as well, but it’s generally lazy-looking, with few characters and minimal to no background (if it’s not occurring on a photo of background), and pretty dull, lifeless stuff.

I pre-ordered this entire “Namor Goes To Hell” story arc from my nearest comic shop because I liked Namor and figured that a story as simple as Namor going to hell and (presumably) coming back sounds simple and impossible to screw up.

I hadn’t taken into account the fact that I may hate the art even more intensely than Namor hates the surface world.

Neko Ramen Vol. 3 (Tokyopop) This is still really funny, and Kenji Sonishi not only seems to be able to think up an infinite number of variations of the Taisho-comes-up-with-a-clever-scheme-to-sell-more-ramen-that-turns-out-to-be-disgusting, but keeps adding new elements to the series, multiplying the number of running gags to riff on.

Neko Ramen—Hands down the best comic about a cat who runs a ramen shop.

Tiny Titans #36 (DC) No lie, I could read an Art Baltazar-drawn scene like this for 22 pages, and close the book with a smile on my face:We only get one page like that though, of Hotspot (A character created for the Teen Titans cartoon that later had a few appearances in the comics) and Kid Devil bonding over the fact that they can both, um, set their head on fire.

These are the two “hot” Titans, and in this issue Terra uses her amazing rock powers to show them something really hot—the center of the earth. Beast Boy tags along. They see all kinds of cool stuff there, including this guy.At this point I’d like to declare this comic book the best thing ever, but I already said that once this column about a different comic book, so I won’t. (But it’s really good!)

Young Justice #0 (DC) Okay, I do have the feeling that I’m missing something here, having not seen any of the TV show (Or has it not started yet? Did they show the pilot so far?).

This is a new comic book based on the new animated series Young Justice, which takes its name and at least some of its premise from the Young Justice comic book series (Actually, this Young Justice iteration seems like a combination of the team/premise from the original YJ mixed with the Silver Age Teen Titans, and with some modern characters thrown in, like Miss Martian from the “One Year Later” Teen Titans and the just-introduced black Aqualad from Brightest Day in for white, fro-rocking Garth).

This is only the first issue of course, and a #0 issue at that, but it seems much more closely tied into the animated series than DC’s based-on-a-cartoon-that’s-based-on-our-comics comics usually are. In fact, this seems to take place between episodes. It opens with Robin, Aqualad and Kid Flash having just rescued a Superman clone named Superboy from Cadmus, and getting busted by their various mentors (And Wonder Woman, which I guess does make the absence of Wonder Girl a bit more conspicuous). I take it that happened in the show.

The scene ends with Batman saying he wants three days to think about what to do about the sidekicks superheroing together, and the remainder of the comic deals with the boys waiting to hear back from Batman, followed by a scene in which his decision is related.

Despite being aware of the fact that I wasn’t getting the whole story, writers Kevin Hopps and Greg Weisman (who also work on the show, making such connectivity possible) have written a first issue that is nevertheless accessible—I knew what I didn’t know, and I knew that I didn’t have to know it, if that makes sense.

The premise actually sounds kind of cool, and like one that straddles that of the Young Justice comic and the Teen Titans concept.

Rather than forming their own team, the teens will serve as part of the Justice League (like a JV squad, I guess), with Red Tornado living in their base as their supervisor (a la the YJ comic). Black Canary will train ‘em, and Batman will come up with covert missions for the kids to be deployed on. It ends with the announcement that it will be a five-member team, although there are only four teen heroes present—I imagine either Miss Martian or the Green Arrowette on the cover are going to be the fifth member.

Basically, it reads a lot like an “ultimate” version of DC’s teen teams, or something that takes the best bits of decades worth of comics to make something fresh and new and relevant(-ish), which is what a good adaptation of this sort should do. Of course, I’m judging the adaptation by its adaptation back into its source material’s home medium, so there’s a good chance I don’t have any idea what I’m talking about.

But I liked the comic book. I liked the sub-plot about Superboy’s feelings toward Superman (and vice versa). I liked the origin of his not-costume costume. I liked the brand-new JLA headquarters of the sort I haven’t seen in comics before. I liked the way Kid Flash fuses Impulse’s personality and costume with Wally West’s. I liked all of the character designs (even Martian Manhunter looks okay in his lame-ass all-black "One Year Later" body condom suit, now that his head is the right shape again), and I particularly liked Mike Norton’s art, which is the main reason I picked this book up.

I really like all of DC’s super-teen characters, but I haven’t been able to read or enjoy the DCU version of the Teen Titans for years now, due to how godawful its writing and art has been, and the overall revolting subject matter it’s traded in. So I was delighted to find that this seems like it should make a wonderful substitute.

Hate our Teen Titans comic? Try our new Young Justice comic! would make a fine house ad for the series, I think.


Thomas said...

Actually, Hotspot was a character created by Dan Jurgens for his short-lived, post-Marv Wolfman run of TEEN TITANS. He was originally named Joto, Swahili for heat...and apparently something really, really rude in Portuguese. Thus the name change.

And I've recently returned to TEEN TITANS thanks to the work of J.T. Krul and Nicola Scott...I've only read the first two issues so far, but the book is bright again, with a lot less of the grand guignol that drove me away, a stable line-up and characterization that was missing from the later McKeever and the Henderson run. I'd recommend it.

Yan Basque said...

Yeah, I too think you should give the current Teen Titans a shot. I was very skeptical about Krul writing the book, since, well, dead cats and whatnot. But he's actually doing an okay job. And Nicola Scott's art is gorgeous and a great fit for the book, I think.

My only real complain so far is that Krul is writing Damian Wayne a bit off-character. Damian's character has evolved passed the "annoying little brat" caricature, but Krul doesn't seem to see past that.

Unknown said...

I've really enjoyed "Young Justice" on Cartoon Network. I believe they are now onto their 3rd or 4th episode (I think 1 + 2 combined into a hour special). Cartoon Network has them online which is where I have been catching them.

It does seem like an "ultimate" version of the characters/storyline. Good mix of "Justice League Unlimited" with "Super Friends" and a little grit from "Batman Beyond."

Dave said...

I'd like to see Aaron Lopresti who is currently on Justice League: Generation Lost take over chores for the man JLA book. I really have been enjoying his work there

Dave said...

Oh, I just thought of an excellent artist that to my knowledge isn't doing anything at DC right now. I think Andy Clarke from R.E.B.E.L.S. and Batman & Robin would elevate the storytelling in JLA tenfold.

Caleb said...


I seem to remember something about Hotspot being a cartoon version of Joto, but more in the way that Black Vulcan is a cartoon version of Black Lightning. Hotspot and Joto have/had different names, powers and costumes, right? (Actually, I don't really remember Hotspot's powers now; in Tiny Titans, all he does is turn his head into a fireball with a FOOSH!)

Re the current Teen Titans: I was really excited to hear Nicola Scott was on the book, but Krul's presence canceled out hers in my mind.

All of the art I've seen so far has been great, and I like the idea of Damian on the team, but the few previews I've read—chunks of five pages here and there, basically—featured pretty poor writing and characterization.

I'm sure I'll check it out in library-trade some day.

Eyz said...

That Brave and the Bold looks awesome!
So obvious, why didn't it happen much sooner already??

And I really dig the YJ cartoon, it really feels like a well done Ultimate DCU, much more than that awful Earth One Superman...(gaaah...)