Monday, June 20, 2011

Comics shop comics: June 1-15

The All-New Batman: The Brave and The Bold #8 (DC Comics) Batman and boisterous, bearded Aquaman team-up to take on The Fisherman, and then quest for the amulet of Arion of Atlantis in order to break the curse of the ghost of pirate Captain Fear, but in order to do so they must first survive a gauntlet of undersea challenges and face the fearsome, bad-ass BnB version of Black Manta and oh my God I love this comic it is the best thing ever!

Batgirl #22 (DC) Given DC’s announcement that they will be canceling this series and launching a new volume of Batgirl, starring Barbara Gordon instead of Stephanie Brown, this is one of what I imagine are quite a few DC super-comics that seem sort of… meaningless now. (Well, you know, more meaningless than usual). It actually seems like an artifact of a different era, what with its promise to be continued in Batman Incorporated, and the talk of Batgirl coming into her own as a hero, and a letters page that makes no mention of The Great Rebootening.

I’m not a regular reader of this series, as I don’t really care for the title character, and her costume sort of hurts my eyes, but picked this one up because it co-starred Squire, from the Knight and Squire team.

Writer Bryan Q. Miller sends Stephanie “Batgirl III” Brown to London, and, quite cleverly, seems to send her into an issue of Paul Cornel and Jimmy Broxton’s Knight and Squire series. Like the issues of that series, this is a done in one, and feverishly fastpaced and silly, with villains based on British culture and a maguffin that’s literalized expression.

In other words, Batgirl and Squire team up to stop The Orphan and his Urchins from stealing The Greenwich Mean, which stops time for everyone but he and our heroines.

I’d recommend it, particularly as an additional installment of Knight and Squire, or as a nice introduction to Miller’s Batgirl, but, again, it all seems sort of futile at this point.

15 Love #1 (Marvel Entertainment) This is perhaps the most mysterious book on the stands this month.

Why did Marvel commission it in the first place? (Was it, perhaps, to be part of the short-lived, resurrected Epic imprint? Or a manga/YA line that ended up being the confused, abandoned during its own launch Tsunami line? Did someone hear Prince of Tennis was popular and think, I bet we could do that, in the Mighty Marvel Manner!…?)

Why did they then decide not to publish it, and, instead, keep it in a drawer for years?

And then why did they decide to publish it now?

And why are they publishing it in this format, instead of, say, an original graphic novel?

I don’t have any answers, and reading it didn’t really provide any—it’s a decent read in all respects, and perhaps even a pretty good one given its Western YA sports comic genre (Heck, it might be the best example of that genre, but only because I’m afraid I can’t think of any others at the moment).

But it’s hardly a great comic (which might have explained the delay), and there’s nothing in here that seems to demand that the world see it. It’s basically like one of those drawer-clearing From The Marvel Vault exercises, only different.

This is a $4.99, 44-page, ad-light (I counted only only four, including the inside and back covers!) comic, the first in a three-issue series. It’s written by Andi Watson, an amazing cartoonist whose work as writer/artist general far exceeds his work as just writer (Compare Clubbing to most of his work, for example). It’s drawn by Tommy Ohtsuka, whose character designs look heavily manga-inspired, although the comic itself is structured, works and reads like a traditional Western comic.

Teenage heroine Mill, who hates being called Millie (Ah ha! Maybe this was intended to be a Millie the Model relaunch, only know she would be Millie the Tennis Champ…?), has the heart of a champ, but seems to lack the confidence and skills to be a winner, and is in danger of being kicked out of her fancy tennis academy.

That’s when a slobbish stranger enters her life and asks to be her coach. Over her friend’s objections, and out of sheer desperation, she accepts, and finds his methods are untraditional!

And, um, that’s the plot.

I enjoyed it, but then I love comics and teen melodrama, so I might not be the typical potential audience member for this. Honestly, I have no idea who the intended audience for this is. I think a trade will do well in libraries, but other than that, I don’t know how or if Marvel sells this in the direct market at all.

Which is really too bad, because if this charts 9,000 copies or so, it really looks like an argument that the Big Two shouldn’t mess around outside their superhero comfort zone, when there are so many other factors to explain the fact that it didn’t click with the direct market.

Flashpoint #2 (DC) With the second issue, we’ve lost our narrator and switched to a third-person omniscient one—is the fact that comics do this within the same story so often just something that bugs me? Is it a personal problem?

Anyway, this issue seemed like a super fast read compared to the first one, perhaps due to—Hey, wait a minute…

…18, 19, 20, 21…Son of a bitch!I’m afraid DC Comics gets a yellow flag for this. The publisher that ran an entire advertising campaign around the fact that they were “drawing the line at $2.99” for their regular, 22-page sized comics (and dropping the page count to 20 in order to do so) just went ahead and published a 22-page comic book and charged $3.99 for it!

In order to help disguise their misdeed, DC fills up the back of the book with seven pages of filler, including that map you’ve probably already seen that said Africa was controlled by monkeys, and five character sketches with some notes by Adam Kubert. The sketch material may be of interest to some, but makes for better bonus material at the back of a trade then something you charge readers an extra buck for after making a big deal about how you’d never charge $3.99 for 22-pages of comics like those monsters at Marvel.

As for those story pages, this is still a pretty quick read, as there are only three scenes, and three things happen within this issue.

First, the dread pirate Slade has his ship boarded by Aquaman and his brother Ocean Master (I was curious what this scene would look like to someone not steeped in DCU trivia, as it mostly involves a bunch of names being thrown around, and the sonar bit is probably kind of weird if you didn’t know there was an old villain named Sonar, who had sonar powers, and that his costume was the same colors as Superman’s, as he kinda looks like Superman in this issue).

Second, Barry Allen convinces Batman Thomas Wayne to help him, and the latter does so, resulting in a scene which is maybe the funniest thing Geoff Johns has ever written, and I wish there was some way to determine if it was meant to be a joker, or not.

Third, Wonder Woman ties her Noose of Truth around Steve Trevor’s neck, and instrangulates him. Alternate Earth Steve Trevor has a goatee; man, they should have given everyone goatees in the world of Flashpoint. Even Wonder Woman. No, especially Wonder Woman.

And that’s it. Four bucks, please.

(An aside: I wonder if it will be revealed at some point that Thomas Wayne drinks bottled Lazarus Pit, or if Andy Kubert just decided to draw Batman’s dad to look like the same age as Batman and Barry Allen, despite the fact that he would have to be at least 25 years older. Also, I kind of wish he had a mustache. Thomas Wayne is usually depicted with a mustache, but the Dr. Wayne of Flashpoint is clean shaven. I bet Batman would look extra-crazy, and thus extra-scary, if he had a bit, bushy mustache visible beneath the pointy triangle nose of his cowl. I can’t stop thinking a bout facial hair in the world of Flashpoint is basically what I’m saying).

Flashpoint: Batman Knight of Vengeance #1 (DC) First things first, that Green Lantern movie ad isn’t doing this comic book cover any favors. Look at this stack of clashing logos:And then there’s a little stack of visual information on the right as well, with the nonsensical little Batman logo at the bottom, like an exclamation point (The Bat-symbol’s actually not as bad as some of these symbols, like the goofy Frankenstein one).

This is the inessential Flashpoint tie-in miniseries with produced by the cream of the the Flashpoint creative team crop—writer Briazn Azzarello and Eduardo Risso, who, yes, did 100 Bullets, but are also responsible for the excellent Batman strip in Wednesday Comics and the “Broken City” arc of Batman, which was completely overshadowed by what came before (Loeb and Lee’s “Hush”) and what came after (Oh look, Jason Todd never died after all!).

This particular creative team handling this particular character is probably more than enough incentive to give this a look (at least so long as you have a passing interest in Batman…and who doesn’t?!), although it doesn’t seem to have a whole hell of a lot to do with the main Flashpoint series at this point (I suspect most of these are more about exploring corners of a different, darker DCU then about feeding into a mega-story anyway) and even if it’s a pretty straightforward, even generically typical Batman story.

A darker, deadlier, grumpier Batman makes everyone around him question his sanity (in addition to making them uncomfortable), and at one point he investigates a string of murders and fights Killer Croc in a sewer. Also, the Joker’s in it.

But because it’s illustrated by Risso, it’s gorgeous stuff, and even if you’ve seen Batman fight Killer Croc in a sewer seven or seventeen times already, it looks a bit different here. Sure, it’s easy to give yourself over to this and enjoy it for what it is, but it’s even easier to enjoy on a pure craft level.

Unlike Kubert in the main series, Risso has gone out of his way to make his version of this Batman look quite different from the familiar Bruce Wayne one. Risso’s Thomas Wayne is a gigantic, brick wall of a man, with a scowl etched into his face that makes the expression of the Batman cowl look more friendly and expressive by comparison.

Risso’s Thomas Wayne and Batman look an awful lot like Frank Miller’s original Dark Knight Bruce Wayne and Batman, which is awfully appropriate, although Risso has a more delicate line and is a bit more subtle at staging…even when staging things like a machete going into a monster’s forehead.

And the lay-outs…I love the lay-outs in this issue. I could marry the lay-outs in this issue.

If you read only one comic with an both ad for Green Lantern (the movie) and the word Flashpoint on the cover this month, make sure it’s Flashpoint: Batman Knight of Vengeance#1!

Flashpoint: Citizen Cold #1 (DC) I had initially ordered this one based on the fact that it was written and drawn by Flashpoint writer Geoff Johns’ longtime collaborator Scott Kolins and its title character was presumably one of their favorites, so it seemed to be one of the series most likely to tie into the main series strongly.

It doesn’t really.

In fact, it’s sort of weird how little the character seems to differ from the regular DCU version. Here he’s publicly seen as a hero (if a brutal, anti-hero type of hero) and goes by the name Citizen Cold instead of Captain Cold (Is it just me, or does the latter actually sound more heroic?). His design, costume and little purlple ray gun all look the exact same and, if it’s not too much of a spoiler to reveal, he’s not actually all that good a guy—the superhero thing is sort of a scam.

It’s okay, I suppose, although I suppose it’s most likely to appeal to Flash Rogue fans. I really like Kolins’ art.

Flashpoint: Frankenstein and The Creatures of the Unknown #1 (DC) This is one of the Flashpoint series that seems to have taken parts of different DC trademarks at random and rearranged them: Here’s it’s the Challengers of The Unknown and the Creature Commandos, with the Grant Morrison/Dough Mahnke Seven Soldiers version of Frankenstein’s monster in for the Lucky Taylor version of the monster (and a fish-creature in for the Myrra Rhodes/Medusa).

In addition to being a Flashpoint tie-in—although, to be honest, it didn’t seem to have much of anything to do with Flashpoint so far, with most of this issue occurring during World War II—it should also function as a bit of a preview for the upcoming Frankenstein, Agent of SHADE series DC recently announced for September, as this is being written by Jeff Lemire, who will also be handling that series (Similarly, Secret Seven, featuring Shade, The Changing Man and some magic characters, is being written by Peter Milligan, who is writing September’s Justice League Dark, which will star Shade and some magic characters).

Sadly, Lemire is only writing this series, and isn’t drawing. The art chores are done by Ibraim Roberson, in a bland 21st Century Super Comic House Style that’s half-buried below the air-brushed looking colors of Pete Pantazis.

I liked Morrison and Mahnke’s Frankenstein character a whole lot. I liked his neat coat. And his cool train/bat revolver. And how he quoted and Byron. And how he had crazy adventures, riding a Martian bug-horse on Mars.

This Frankenstein seems a lot more…generic, really, missing every thing above (including Mahnke’s art, save for on the cover), and doesn’t raise my hopes for Lemire’s upcoming monthly (Although that should have much more interesting artwork on it).

Flashpoint: Secret Seven #1 (DC) So titled because Flashpoint: Shade, The Changing Man didn’t sound quite as mysterious or marketable.

This is written by Peter Milligan, re-creator of Shade and writer of a 70-issue long Vertigo series based on the character (actual creator Steve Ditko’s 1977 series featuring the character was considerably shorter). I’m not entirely sure if this is the Vertigo version of the character, the DCU version of the character wearing the Vertigo’s version’s coat, or if they were always the same version anyway (there’s a bit of exposition in here that mentions Shade’s ability to exist in more than one reality simultaneously).

Of course, I never entirely understood Milligan’s Shade series in the first place which, frankly, was one of its great charms.

So: Rac Shade, extra-dimensional alien with a super-powered super-vest sent to earth to hunt down insane criminals, is on the run, fleeing from the weird, alien masters of his home dimension, an unseen enemy that seems to have killed a team he once lead (The Secret Seven) and being hunted by The Enchantress, the DC sorceress who began her fictive existence as a cute witch and naturally involved into a scantily clad crazy lady.

Who’s a good artist to draw a crazy Ditko character popularized by a 1990s Vertigo series by the likes of Chris Bachalo? Well, George Perez probably didn’t leap to the forefront of many readers’ minds when pondering that question, which is, in part, what makes him an inspired choice for illustrating this series.

Highly detailed, realistic-looking, representational art drawn without the use of computers and Google Image photoreference is exactly what makes wild fantasy work so well.

For example, here’s Shade’s hometown:Imagine what most any other artist working for the Big Two might have done with that scene.

Yeah, this is a good comic.

SpongeBob Comics #3 (United Plankton Pictures) Editor Chris Duffy is, and I don’t use this word lightly, a genius. In addition to the the normal stellar line-up of creators in this anthology of gag comics featuring the SpongeBob cast, he gets classic Aquaman artist Ramona Fradon to illustrate the comic book adventures of the Aquaman-inspired superhero Mermaid Man, which are embedded into a story drawn by Gregg Schigiel, in which SpongeBob reads Squidward one of his comics:

Static Shock Special #1 (DC) This was a pretty curious project, and its initial announcement was not without controversy, but it turned out to be a pretty good comic, and I was even surprised to find myself getting a little choked up here and there.

The lead story is a 20-page one, written by Felicia D. Henderson, who was as recently as February was going to be writing an upcoming Static ongoing, although now it seems that Scott McDaniel and John Rozum will actually be writing the series (What happened there, exactly, I wonder…?). It’s drawn by Static co-creator Denys Cowan, who seems to have made a leap in his already impressive abilities, based on the last few times I’ve seen his artwork (Strange Adventures, Black Panther/Captain America: Flags of Our Fathers), and a trio of different inkers, who were all faithful enough to Cowan’s pencils that I didn’t even notice how many of them there were until I looked it up.

This story is basically a gentle reintroduction to the character of Virgil Hawkins and Static, assuming a certain level of familiarity to him and his cast, but not demanding it.

This story was perhaps originally intended to be the first issue of Henderson’s series, or perhaps a script she wrote as a pitch, but after Static creator Dwayne McDuffie’s untimely, much-mourned death earlier this year, it transformed into something of a tribute issue.

So the Henderson/Cowan story, which, coincidentally or not, deals with Virgin mourning the loss of an older family member and trying to do right by his memory, is followed by a touching two-pager by Matt Wayne and John Paul Leon, in which a silent McDuffie meets first Virgil and then Rocket in a comic shop, a pair of prose pieces from McDuffie's Milestone Media co-founders Derek Dingle and Michael Davis and pin-ups from Keron Grant, Derec Donovan, Jamal Igle, Eric Battle, and this one by John Rozum that I just gotta show you at least part of:Man, could you imagine a whole comic like that? How great would that be?

The weird thing is, this comic really convinced me to pick up Henderson’s Static monthly and give it a chance…of course, it’s never going to exist at all now, so, um…I don’t know. Nice one-shot though, and while Henderson and Cowan’s work was pretty great, that two-pager is a real knock-out punch.

Tiny Titans #41 (DC) This is a Flash-focused issue, presumably kinda sorta meant to capitalize on Flashpoint interest, with one scene specifically written just to get Kid Flash in position to say the words “Flash point” (Not really as funny as the “Finals Crisis” or “Battle For The Cow” gags, I’m afraid).

The, uh, running gag of the issue is that Kid Flash and the other Tiny speedsters (Mas y Menos, Inertia, Peekaboo and introducing Tiny Jesse Quick) are having a race to determine who is the fastest, but I liked the Blue Beetle bits best:


Nicholas Ahlhelm said...

FYI, the back-up prose pieces in Static Shock are by the other two founders of Milestone: Michael Davis and Derek Dingle, just not Dingle.

I too thought Felicia proved she could write a decent Static story with this book, but honestly, I will probably prefer original Milestone creator Rozum on the book.

That being said, it does seem strange that they are replacing a black woman with a white man for the project.

Aki Alaraatikka said...

"Man, could you imagine a whole comic like that? How great would that be?"

I could imagine a comic like that, and it would be awesome. Especially if it would be 75 pages long, and have great characters + really great plot.

David Charles Bitterbaum said...

I'm not steeped in DC continuity but followed Flashpoint #2 okay. I figured Sonar was some DC character with sonar powers and the guy with Aquaman was a trusted friend or brother.

Also, that Batman Flashpoint tie-in comic is the only Flashpoint tie-in I said I would buy and with good reason, it looks and reads damn good.

Caleb said...

FYI, the back-up prose pieces in Static Shock are by the other two founders of Milestone: Michael Davis and Derek Dingle, just not Dingle.

Thanks, fixed it. That's twice in, like, a week you've caught things I totally missed.

Anthony Strand said...

Why does the importance of that Batgirl issue change in a few months, really? I mean, it's not really very "important" now. It's just a silly one-off comic book about Batgirl and Squire teaming up.

It wouldn't affect any other books even if the universe wasn't being rebooted. But it would still be the exact same amount of fun!