Thursday, March 28, 2013

Meanwhile, at Robot 6...

Today at Robot 6, I have a piece about Dark Horse's recent Neon Genesis Evangelion: Comic Tribute book, which is...not for everyone, to put it lightly, but I really like the idea of it, and I really liked seeing different artists draw such familiar character. For example, check out all those Rei Ayanamis above.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Review: Hawkgirl: The Maw

It was so odd, so unusual and so brief that it seems a little like a dream: Did DC Comics really have Walter Simonson writing and Howard Chaykin drawing a Hawkgirl monthly series? The answer is, of course, yes; but only briefly.

It began in May of 2006, during a one-month, line-wide gimmick/promotion that, in retrospect, looks like one of several earlier attempts at a reboot that current co-publisher Dan DiDio had made on the road to fall of 2011's "New 52" reboot. This one was dubbed "One Year Later," and the idea was that after the multiverse-shaking events of Infinite Crisis, all of DC's books would jump one year ahead in time, giving creators an opportunity to do something fresh and new (and not dependent on the fallout of the just-completed crossover storyline) and readers the opportunity to jump on to any book in the line without worrying about joining a story already in progress.

For the most part, this meant new creative teams, new costumes, new team line-ups, new status quos, and so on. The Hawkman monthly received one of the most dramatic overhauls: It's title would be changed to Hawkgirl (although the numbering would start with #50, the month after Hawkman #49), it would now star Hawkgirl, the aforementioned creative team of Simonson and Chaykin would take over for the departing Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti and Chris Batista, and as Hawkman's exact whereabouts would be a mystery; he was simply MIA after the events of Infinite Crisis).I read the first issue, maybe first two issues, and then abandoned it.
I remembered liking it okay, but I was trying a lot of DC comics that month, and it didn't strike me as one of the better ones. But given the rather quick cancellation of the latest Hawkman title, the New 52's The Savage Hawkman, which lasted only 20 issues, I thought I might revisit the series in trade paperback, given that it was almost as successful as the last Hawkman series, despite not starring Hawkman an not having the unprecedented PR push that The New 52 received (Hawkgirl lasted 17 issues).

What is immediately apparent about Hawkgirl, what differentiates it from Hawkman comics before and after, and from most of what one could find on the stands in terms of super-comics in 2006 was, of course, the presence of Chaykin's artwork. His big, expressive, cartoony faces, his blocky figures often half-frozen in hulking, Kirby-like poses, his obvious delight in rendering textures to the point of rarely letting a scene go by without including black lace in it somewhere...Hawkgirl had it's own, distinct visual look and hook.
Chaykin also drew his title character with clearly visible, apparently hard nipples straining against the fabric of whatever top she was wearing almost constantly, which seems like it must have been been pretty daring in DC's pre-rating system, 2006 line—hell, it's rare one see the outline of a nipple or the shapely bulge of a superhero's crotch through a costume in the T+ or M-rated books of 2012 or '13, this despite the fact that so many panels of so many comics seem composed around a female character's mostly-exposed, clothed only in spandex or silk breasts (I'm thinking specifically of New Guardians, at the moment).

Chaykin draws Hawkgirl Kendra Saunders as a cheesecakey heroine, and it works. Simonson's narrative is as pulpy as any involving the Hawks I can recall—she battles cultists, mummies and Lovecraftian space-gods, she explores hidden temples and shares panels with Egyptian deities. She sleeps in tiny, black lace nightgowns...
...takes showers...
...sometimes has her top torn off in battle...
...and wears a uniform so form-fitting it reveals her nipples. The sexual nature of Chaykin's artwork compliments rather than conflicts with Simonson's scripts.

One could argue if that's the best direction to go in with Hawkgirl, who as a star of Justice League Unlimited was, like Green Lantern John Stewart, a better known hero than the one she was technically a derivation from, and also a potential gateway hero for young would-be DC readers, but it's not a wrong direction, either and, unlike, say, Ed Benes' run on Justice League of America around the same time, he wasn't violating the spirit of the script with cheesecake.

That script finds Kendra Saunders working at the Stonechat Museum in St. Roch, Louisiana (which is to New Orleans as Gotham City once was to New York City), which she protects by night as Hawkgirl. In both identities, she has dealings with handsome men, like a museum co-worker (the son of the institution's director) and a police detective.
Some particularly brutal killings are afflicting the city, committed by a huge warrior woman covered in ritual tattoos and wearing only brass breast petals and whatever the crotch equivalent, something weird is going on in the basement of the museum and Kendra's not getting much sleep, which makes it difficult to determine what's real and what's not.

Meanwhile, Hawkman is still lost in space somewhere, and she's torn between holding a candle for him—something that makes her uncomfortable, because they were lover's in past lives, which he remembers more clearly than she does—and the attention of that handsome detective.

The immortal bad guy who is always hounding the Hawks is hanging around, and there's a e thingee in the basement that wants to devour her.

It's pure, unambitous genre stuff, but it's successful, and it all looks really great. Without Chaykin, this could easily prove tedious—as later volumes, collecting issues from after Chaykin's short run, will demonstrate—but for this volume at least, Hawkgirl is effective pulp heroine as old school superhero. Good writing, good art, good comic.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Among his many other achievements, Superman also apparently discovered the word "blog."

The above panel, drawn by Kurt Schaffenberger, first appeared in 1959's Superman's Girl Friend, Lois Lane #9, and was reprinted in Showcase Presents: Superman Family Vol. 3.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Some picture books of note:

Abe Lincoln's Dream (Roaring Brook Press; 2013): Lane Smith's book is based in historical fact, including President Lincoln's troubled dream of a storm-wracked ship the night before his assassination, the behavior of a few First Dogs over the years and the occasional sightings of Lincoln's ghost in the White House.

In this tale, a young girl named Quincy encounters Lincoln's ghost in the White House, and they talk: He tells her of his bad dream, he tells her a few funny bad jokes and of his worries regarding the state of the country when he left it, and that he left it before he could solve some of its more intractable problems.

Quincy assures him that the country's not in such bad shape after all, and that while we're still working on some of those problems, we've come a long way, and often seem to be heading in the right direction.

She demonstrates this by taking Lincoln's hand, and having him fly her all around the country.

It's a cute, quite charming story, and Smith's art is amazing. He focuses on the easily exaggerated, cartoon-ready elements of the president to make a rather inspired version: Stick-thin limbs, only a few times thicker than the white stripes on his black sleeves and pant-legs, a mournful, white face top a big head resting wearily atop his neck, a perfectly proportioned stovepipe hat that fits snugly atop his head, and increases his height by another foot or so.
He is in rather spectacular contrast to the Quincy character, a little black girl with who stands about the size of his head, from beard to tophat top, and who wears a yellow, triangular dress. In shape, size and color, she contrasts the late president dramatically.

There's something old and monumental looking about the pages, with age-like cracks appearing behind the artwork, which is full of little lines, like the images on, say, a five-dollar bill. The text—which changes color, size and shape slightly throughout, usually to indicate a change in speaker—similarly looks like that found on money, and/or on/in posters and newspapers from the late 19th century.

Bear In Underwear (Blue Apple Books; 2010): Todd H. Doodler's 2011 book Bear In Long Underwear was previously discussed in a previous installment of this column, and it was only when I saw this book that I realized it was actually part of a series (There's also a third book, Bear In Pink Underwear and, as it turns out, a whole slew of underwear-related books by the author).

All of the charms of Long Underwear are obviously also present in the original, including Doodler's charmingly square woodland creature designs, his inclusion of a Bigfoot (named "Big Foot") among them and a pretty cool cover design in which Bear's underwear are made of fabric (these tighty whities don't hold up so well in library books though, and it now looks like he's wearing some very old, rather dirty underwear on the cover of the copy I read).

So one day Bear and all of his naked, square-shaped animal friends—Cougar, Porcupine, Moose, etc—are playing hide-and-seek. Bear hid so well that no one could find him and, eventually, he got hungry, so he decided to run home to eat. On the way, he tripped over a backpack that was left lying in the middle of the path.

He wore it home, where his friends cajoled him into opening. Reluctantly, he did, and it exploded with underwear of all kinds! They then cajoled him into trying them on, which Bear does, and, for the next few pages, he's like the Goldilocks of underwear: Too big, too tight, too dirty (yes, there's a stained pair with stink lines and flies emanating from it.

Finally, he finds the Excalibur of the underwear collection, the tighty whities seen on the cover. His friends then all find a pair of their own underwear from the bag (Thankfully, no one puts on the dirty pair, not even Skunk, whom likely wouldn't mind the smell as much as some of the others).

And, um, that's the story of how Bear and the creatures of the forest came to wear underwear.

Adults may have questions. Why was there a backpack full of underwear of all sorts, including a very dirty pair? Whose backpack was it, and how did they lose it in the forest? Most pressing in my adult mind was why on Earth Bear and his pals would immediately start putting on strange underwear belong to unknown persons, and what kind of message this sends our children.

I feel like there should maybe be a disclaimer at the ends saying that "If you find a strange backpack full of underwear in the woods, do not put them on."

As for the moral of the story, I think that it is this: There is a style of underwear perfect for everyone, and sometimes you need to try new things in order to find them. Also, nudity is bad and shameful and everyone, even the animals of the forest, should cover their shame.

That, or maybe it's just a fun story about underwear, an eternal source of amusement for children (and many adults).

Dinosaur Vs. Santa (Hyperion; 2012): Bob Shea is a favorite illustrator of mine, and it seems like a book of his gets included in just about every column on picture books I put together. This one, released last fall in time for the holiday, but not written about by me until March because I apparently only do these columns every six months or so, is the latest in his series of Dinosaur Vs. books.

I liked the first one a whole lot: Dinosaur Vs. Bedtime featured the title character, a kidney-bean shaped dinosaur that roared his way through various challenges, coming up against a intractable, insurmountable force that no child can defeat, no matter how hard they may want to—the need to pass out at the end of the day (Particularly a day that involves a lot of roaring and conflict-overcoming, like Dinosaur's day).

It's sequels, Dinosaur Vs. Potty and Dinosaur Vs. The Library weren't quite as successful for me, as they didn't have the same strong conceptual underpinning. The Library and The Potty are certainly enemies (of a sort) that can challenge and best a child/dinosaur that can usually "win" most of his/her/its challenges, but the nature of their enmity is quite different from that of bedtime.

I enjoyed the artwork in both of those immensely, but they didn't wow me the way Bedtime did, and felt more like checking in with an old friend than a revelation unto themselves (This is common in kids books turned series of kids books, of course; Mo Willems' Don't Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus is a far different, far sharper and more focused book than, say, his The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog or The Pigeon Wants a Puppy).

Dinosaur Vs. Santa (which has to be one of my all-time favorite titles of anything ever), is a Christmas book, obviously. In it, we see our familiar dinosaur hero, wearing a variety of cool holiday sweaters, battling a series of Christmastime rituals, each of which he wins with his normal display of roaring and some unusual sound effects. You know, Dinosaur versus a letter to Santa! (ROAR! DRAW! SCRIBBLE! ROAR!), Dinosaur versus presents for Mom and Dad! (ROAR! SNIP! ROAR! ROAR! GLUE! ROAR! GLITTER!) And so on.

There are a few deviations, including Dinosaur versus being extra good, in which he's faced with a plate of tempting cookies left for Santa and must resist eating one of them (he does it!) and then the ultimate test, Dinosaur versus falling asleep on Christmas Eve!

Does he do it? Well, if you've read vs. Bedtime, you know no dinosaur can withstand the force of sleep for too long, but it's a charming conflict nonetheless, with the title antagonist appearing only in shadow.

Shea's artwork is as perfect as always. His dinosaur still looks slightly rough and crayon-drawn, but "real" objects are inserted in the artwork at a more frequent rate, so the cookies and decorations and craft supplies and so forth that Dinosaur interacts with seem to be photographs cut-and-pasted into the art work, giving it a charming collage effect. (The plate of cookies looked especially good; props to Dinosaur for being able to resist that gingerbread man, as I don't think I would have been able to).

Dinosaur has a much fuller range of expressions in this book than in some of the past ones, I think, and it always strikes me as kind of funny and slightly weird when he is making any face other than his roaring face.
And, on the last page, we get a glimpse of his apparently human parents, which reinforces the perhaps obvious (to adults) fact that Dinosaur is just a metaphorical dinosaur:

The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins (Scholastic Press; 2001): One of the many, many fascinating things about dinosaurs is how our views of them have changed over the decades since we first discovered them (although arguments can and have been made that humanity has been living with their fossils for centuries, and interpreting them in various ways all along, so that certain mythological monsters are, in a way, early human accounts for dinosaurs).

It can be quite amazing how quickly our understanding of what dinosaurs may or must have been liked has changed, too. I know just in my relatively short lifetime, the dinosaurs I've seen in the latest documentaries I've watched are very different from the dinosaurs I saw in the mid-1990s Jurassic Park film (which, unlike most dinosaur movies of the 20th century, had scientific advisers rather heavily involved), and those were very different from the dinosaurs in the books I read as a child.

In those books, dinosaurs were still slow-moving, cold-blooded giant reptiles, dragging their tails on the ground behind them. T-Rex stood up stock straight, and sauropods spent all their time in swamp water. As outdated as those books might now be, they also included sections on the dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins, the Englishman who gave the world its first view of dinosaurs in the Victorian Era, creating the huge, life-sized models of dinosaurs that graced the Crystal Palace at Sydenham Park in 1854.

You've likely seen these dinosaurs, even if you don't know the whole story of their genesis and the man who designed and built them. That quickly evolving scientific understanding has dismissed his version of the dinosaurs, or course. The most famous example was probably his Iguanodon, which, like all of his dinosaurs, resembled a giant lizard more so than the creatures we now envision. It was quadrapedal rather than bipedal, and bore a rhinoceros-like horn on his snout, whereas now we think that "horn" was actually one of two thumb claws.

This book isn't about what's changed since Hawkins' time (although there is a page at the very end contrasting Hawkins' dinosaurs with 2001's dinosaurs), but is instead a biography of the man, told in three sections or acts, as they're labeled.

Writer Barbara Kerley and artist Brian Selznick (whose name you're likely familiar with from some of his later work) begin their story in England, with Hawkins' boyhood interest in drawing and sculpting, before moving to the 1850s, when Hawkins goes about his project of building dinosaurs with the help of scientist Richard Owen, based on the existing fossils.

They discuss the process of building the dinosaurs, as well as Hawkins' method of trying to sell the scientific community and England in general on his dinosaurs.
In Act II, he heads to America, where he's been invited to build a similar dinosaur park filled with American dinosaurs, to be erected in Central Park. Boss Tweed was against it as a waste of money, and when Hawkins spoke out against him in 1871, vandals broke into his shop, smashed his dinosaurs and buried the pieces somewhere in the park.

In Act III, he heads home to England, where he spends the rest of his life, and Kerley and Selznick suggest the evolution of thinking on dinosaurs and close with a rather elegant image of a little boy in central park, sketching nature just as Hawkins did as a boy, the head of one of the smashed and ruined dinosaur sculptures peering up at him from its secret burial place.

They close with several pages of notes, offering yet more insight into a fascinating man, his fascinating life and historical anecdotes that really should be more widely known. I minored in history in college, and have always been fascinated with dinosaurs, yet I never knew about the planned and abandoned dinosaur museum in Central Park, I'm embarrassed to say.

As picture books go, it's rather wordy, and obviously meant for older readers than...let's see...everything else mentioned in this post. It strikes a very good balance between for kids and for grown-ups though, I think, and deserves an all-ages designation.

Selznick's artwork is great, evoking the look of Victorian England and 19th century America in architecture, fashion and, more subtly, presentation of the material. His versions of Hawkins' dinosaurs are perfect, and there are several very effective images, including the aforementioned closing page, the look away scene of the mysterious destruction of the American dinosaur sculptures (a two page spread shows the workshop from the outside, so all we see is a dark wall, with a tiny illuminated window, in which one can see a fist gripping a hammer and a few chunks of dinosaur shrapnel) and, quite evocatively, scenes of Hawkins walking lost in thought, while little ghostly images of his dinosaurs float in a loose cloud about him.
It's the best kind of historical story—relevant, relatively unknown, powerfully suggestive—told extremely well to a potentially quite large audience.

Elemenopeo (Houghton Mifflin; 1998): The fact that the cat on the cover looks just like a cat that lived with a friend of mine first caught my attention, and the cat's name convinced me to take it home with me.

"My name is Elemenopeo," the book begins, author Harriet Ziefert's words masquerading as Elemenopeo's appearing beneath a painted image of the cat by Illustrator Donald Saaf. "If you don't know how to say my name, just read these letters: L...M...N...O...P...O."

"I may look like an ordinary cat. But I'm not," Elemenopeo goes on. "I always get up early and eat breakfast. Today I'm having a bagel with lox and cream cheese."

While the first image was of the cat looking out the window, resembling a perfectly normal cat save for the broad smile, the second one shows the cat on its hind legs, grasping the bagel which, given the small size of a cat, looks like a pretty big breakfast (Imagine yourself eating a whole pizza for breakfast).

Despite the protestations, Elemenopeo's life seems like that of a pretty ordinary cat, and in first-person cat narration we learn about the typical day, which involves going out a pet door, watching and chasing birds, napping and hanging out with another outdoor cat.

One day, the pet door is closed, a small sign reading "Close For Repairs" on it, and thus Elemenopeo's beloved, comfortable routine is interrupted. Paints are discovered, and so, for the day at least, Elemenopeo becomes an artist.

It's a nice, simple, gentle story, perfectly realistic save with only two variations—breakfast and painting. Saaf's painted artwork is perfectly suited to a story about a cat who becomes a painter as well—Elemenopeo's style is much rougher and more primitive than Saaf's more polished and assured style, which is just realistic enough to strike the same realism-with-a-touch of fantasy tone of Ziefert's script.

Paul Bunyan and Babe The Blue The Blue Ox: The Great Pancake Adventure (Abrams Books; 2012): Writer/artist Matt Luckhurst reinvents and reinterprets some of Paul Bunyan's best-known adventures, tying them together into a single, cohesive narrative that emphasizes he and pal Babe's love for pancakes as a driving force in them, and coming up with a few important morals not normally associated with the characters, cheekily delivered (These are the importance of a balanced diet that includes fruits and vegetables, as an all-pancake diet doesn't provide the nutrients that giants or giant oxen need, and to always listen to your mother, who is always right).

One thing Luckhurst does is elevate Babe from pet or sidekick status to that of an actual co-star. As you can see on the cover, he stands on his hind legs, shoulder-to-shoulder with Bunyan. When he's introduced, he's given a full-page introduction with a banner bearing his name, just as Paul is. The narrator tells us that people remember Bunyan and his best friend Babe The Blue Ox as the greatest lumberjacks to ever work in the forests.

No longer a solo star, Paul Bunyan is now part of a comedy duo, with Babe Hobbes to his Calvin, Chewbacca to his Han Solo, rather than, say, Silver to his Lone Ranger, or Battlecat to his He-Man.

Luckner chronicles the over-sized characters' difficulty in early life and their journey out into the world in search of pancakes and adventure. They get both when a man calls them to the scene of an accident. It seems a truck full of flour crashed and dumped its load of flour into the river, and the sun baked the resulting batter into pancakes that had completely blocked the river, preventing logs from traveling down it.

The pair put on their eating hats (this version of Paul Bunyan and Babe have eating hats) and clear the way. They get jobs as lumberjacks, chew on the Rocky Mountains, carve the Grand Canyon and so on.
Luckner's art has the feel of both folk art and roadside art, and has a charming illustrative quality that makes it more perfect still for his story.

His Paul is a big, bearded lumberjack, but he's proportioned as a more or less regular dude—just a really big regular dude (There's a neat image of him as a young boy in school, where he fills the schoolhouse and uses a tree as a pencil; he's so young, he doesn't have a beard yet, just a big, luxurious mustache).

Babe is actually a blue and white ox, with a white spot on the rump and underbelly, and a mostly white head (save for a blue patch around his eye). Babe's ox-ishness comes and goes as the story requires; more often than not, he is anthropomorphic, walking on his hind legs and using his front hooves like hands, although there is a scene where he pulls a plow and he's exempt from school.

The President and Mom's Apple Pie (Dutton; 2002): Michael Garland's picture book about President Howard Taft, seventh of Ohio's eight presidents and first fattest of every president ever, is essentially one big fat joke. Which is fine: Taft was 300 pounds, after all, and that paired with his fantastic mustache make him one of the most cartoon-ready of our presidents, one who really should be drawn more often by more artists.

The story here is that Taft is coming to a small town to dedicate a flagpole, but as soon as he gets off the train, he is distracted by a wonderful aroma, and follows it to an Italian restaurant, where he eats a plate of spaghetti. Next, he smells barbecue. And then Chinese. And, ultimately, the titular foodstuff. Taft follows his nose from one meal to the next, Garland's version of him an enormous but perfectly round circle in a nice suit, nimbly prancing from one place to another on tiny legs ending in tinier feet.
His shape for Taft is delightful, as is the image of the big president running away from his official duties, trailing an entire town trying to keep up with the important but easily distracted head of state. I was enthusiastic about Garland's textures, as everyone and everything looks vaguely toy-like.

This Moose Belongs To Me (Philomel; 2012): Oliver Jeffers' latest book concerns a young boy named Wilfred, who the first page assures us owned a moose. Wilfred himself is fairly certain that he owns a moose, and he's named him Marcel and devised all sorts of rules for Marcel to follow, although Marcel isn't especially inclined to do so.

The story follows Wilfred and he follows Marcel until his insistence on owning the moose, and/or the moose's inability to realize that, causes a sort of crisis, which is later and safely resolved, and a mutually beneficial arrangement is arrived at.

Jeffers' artwork is usually the main draw for me with his books, although the story in this one is among his strongest. The way he draws legs still drives me crazy though (They look fine upon the moose, as moose legs look so different from people legs, and moose don't wear pants or shoes; but Jeffers' people and, on one occasion, a bipedal bear, simply have straight, stick figure-like lines for legs, regardless of how full, fleshed-out and three-dimensional the rest of their bodies are rendered).
Here, the characters—Wilfred, Marcel, a few other people with ideas about the moose—are painted in Jeffers' usual style, while the backgrounds are either plain white voids or landscape paintings Jeffers produced in a completely different style, and/or sampled, visual hip hop style, from other works by other artists.

It's a great-looking book, and maybe my favorite of Jeffers' so far.

Stuck (Philomel; 2011): Speaking of Oliver Jeffers...

Young boy Floyd gets his kite stuck in a tree, and tries to dislodge it by throwing first one shoe, than the other, at it. These both become stuck as well. So Floyd goes to get a ladder and, in an unexpected twist that drives the gag narrative of the book, Floyd throws the ladder into the tree as well.

The rest of the book mostly entails Floyd throwing larger and larger objects into the tree, and, when practical solutions seem to present themselves to him, he instead throws them into the tree as well.

It's a single gag with a few extra-clever variations, but it's an effective one, and I Jeffers is quite good at drawing people and objects being thrown through the air.

The Snow Ghosts (Houghton Mifflin; 2003): This is a small and short book; a little square book that's inches high and inches wide. On the left page of each two-page spread, there's a short sentence or two, and on the right there is an image, a very small image that occupies maybe about 1/3 of the available page space, with a broad white border around each image.

It's about The Snow Ghosts, a group of happy little ghosts that live "in the far, far north, where snow is always falling." It talks about how they spend their days, their hobbies and favorite activities.
Landry's super-simple art is super-charming. His snow ghosts look a bit like little, well-trimmed snow-covered bushes with smiley faces consisting of two dot eyes and a thin, little curve of a smile. They usually lack limbs, unless they need 'em, and while they're usually shaped like elongated gum drops, they can stretch or grow or shrink as their chosen activity—sledding on their bellies, racing on ice floes—demands.

There's not much to the book, really, but what's there is cute, gentle and quite appealing.

The Surprise (Front Street; 2004): I can't say anything at all about Sylvia van Ommen's wordless book without spoiling the plot. Suffice it to say that it is beautifully painted, and tells a cute, simple story about giving of oneself.

Saturday, March 23, 2013


The six-page house ad for Andy Diggle and Tony S. Daniel's upcoming "era" of Action Comics that ran in many of DC's books this week is three-tenths the length of Diggle's one-issue run on the book, and one-tenth the length of Daniel's three-issue run on it.

Friday, March 22, 2013

I call bull@#$%.

Normally, I'd call "bullshit", but, since 2008's Super Friends #3, which Capstone just reprinted as a hardcover and I just read, is a kids comic, I'll stick with "bull@#$%" instead.

The plot for this comic involves Felix Faust making magical finger puppets of the Super Friends, through which he can control their actions by issuing a direct command to them. So that means the Super Friends are forced to serve the evil wizard in his quest to gather the jar, bell and wheel and thus rule the world.

The Friends come up with a plan to stop him though.

They arrive at the dingy apartment Faust is using as a base of operations with the magical artifacts. Pay special attention to Wonder Woman in those panels, okay?
He looks at Superman and commands, "You--Superman! Tie up the Super Friends and lock them in my basement. To which Superman simply says, "No." Confounded by how Superman is resisting his magical commands, Faust argues with him, long enough that The Flash could remove his puppets at super-speed.

How was Superman resisting...?
They all dressed up as one another, of course! Now I'll buy Superman and Batman switching costumes, as the big, brawny, black-haired besties look pretty similar. I suppose I could even go with Batman fitting a life-like Superman mask on over his bat-cowl, or Flash a John Stewart mask over his cowl. And mmmaaaybe Wonder Woman could get away with dressing as Aquaman, if she had some kinda broad-shouldered, rubber-muscled man-suit on.

But Aquaman in a Wonder Woman costume? Look at that panel again—her waist, her hips, her ehourglass figure, her tiny neck and slim arms. That's Aquaman in a Wonder Woman costume...?



Speaking of Aquaman wearing a Wonder Woman costume, remember when Chris Samnee drew this, after Wondy's much publicized ditching of her costume in favor of the pants and jacket ensemble she wore during the short-lived, abandoned-by-its-own-writer J. Michael Straczynski run on the character...?

Thursday, March 21, 2013


Today at Robot 6 I have a review of Kodoja: Terror Mountain Showdown #1, a really rather good self-published comic about a giant monster.

Elsewhere on the Internet, I wrote about Capstone's hardcover reprints of DC's Super Friends comics for Good Comics For Kids and I offered a few suggestions in GC4K's list of Ultimate Comics Spider-Man Vol. 1 readalikes.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Comic shop comics: March 13-20

Daredevil #24 (Marvel Entertainment) I don't generally like meeting comics creators in person, for the same reason I don't like meeting anyone in person—I don't really like...oh, what's the word...people? Yeah, people. I don't like 'em.

I'd kinda like to meet Chris Samnee, though, just so I could give him a nice firm handshake and say, "Good job on Daredevil, Chris Samnee. That's some damn fine comic book drawing." Like, as soon as I finished reading this issue, I wanted to just set it down, stand up and shake Chris Samnee's hand.

There's a fine cover image (although the logo and the red strip at the bottom kind of clutter it up), a wonderful sequence with Hank Pym changing size while working in his lab and talking on his cell phone, another one where Matt Murdock shows off his leaping-about facility on a gym's rock climbing wall and the regular masterful illustrations of people, like, having conversations or fighting rabid, mutated dogs and what not.

Damn fine comic book drawing...

Saga #11 (Image Comics) The good news is that Lying Cat does not die, so thank God for that. Someone else does die though, and props to Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples for making me care enough about this cast of characters, even the relatively new additions to it, that I actually worried about the fate of Lying Cat and felt kind of bummed when the character who died dies.

This issue opens with a NSFEDILW sex scene, which demonstrates the evolutionary purpose of Marko's people's horns (In a word? Handles.)

It was kind of weird—a good kind of weird—reading an issue of this on the same Wednesday evening as an issue of Star Wars.

Saucer Country #13 (DC Comics) That last-page cliffhanger? I did not see that coming, nor could I have ever imagined that was a possibility for a cliffhanger. So bravo to writer Paul Cornell for that. (Say, can people with jowls use the term "cray-cray"...?)

Star Wars #3 (Dark Horse Comics) There's some heavy flirting between Luke and a female X-Wing pilot in this issue, which kinda messes with my life-long understanding that these characters are all a bunch of virgins, and Leia seems jealous of the girl making time with her brother who is totally in love with her. I know they don't know it yet, but we know it and, Shakespearean or not, it can be a bit icky.

I've been reading the old Marvel Star Wars comics that are set between the movies in the first trilogy, the same time period these comics are set in, and it's striking how the Marvel comics pretty much drop any romantic sub-plotting, with Leia, Luke and Han all thinking of one another as friends, and only once in a while getting kind of confused about their feelings. If writer Brian Wood is playing up the conflict, well, that's an interesting choice.

Another thing I thought too much about while reading this issue is Chewbacca's laser crossbow. What's the bow part of it for, really? I'm sure there's a Wikipedia article on it somewhere. Basically it's just a laser blaster in the shape of a crossbow though, right?

Wonder Woman #18 (DC) Wonder Woman and the Olympians are still fighting over that goddam baby, as they have been for the last year and a half. In this issue, it's War vs. Harvest, Poseidon vs. The First Born and Wonder Woman vs. Hermes, with a an assist from Orion, who explains why he slapped her ass in that issue (it was apparently to get DNA from her...? Which doesn't sound right, unless there was a pretty invasive groping attached to that ass-slap).

The comic remains a pretty good one, but it does feel like I read the same issue once a month. Maybe it reads better in trade?

The Cliff Chiang and Tony Akins art relay team takes on new hands with this issue, with Chiang drawing three pages, Akins and Dan Green seven pages and Goran Sudzuka drawing ten pages. Remarkably, it all holds together pretty well and I think it's worth noting that even with this obviously rather fucked-up and parceled-out method of making a monthly comic book, Wonder Woman is still head and shoulders above the vast bulk of the New 52 books in terms of visual quality.

I laughed when I turned the last page to find a five-page house ad for the "new creative team coming this April!" to Action Comics: Andy Diggle, Tony S. Daniel, Matt Banning and Tomeu Morey. That new creative team apparently lasts exactly one issue, before writer Andy Diggle's run ends (due to creative differences) and artist Daniel becomes a last-minute replacement, serving as the new writer/artist for Action Comics as he's done on various Batman comics in the past (His first Batman comic as writer and artist was Battle for the Cowl, which Judd Winick was writing for a while until the editors decided they wanted it to go in a different direction, and Daniels stepped up to fill-in).

Between the time I first heard that Andy Diggle's run on Action Comics was ending a month after it began this afternoon and the time I saw that five-page advertisement later this same afternoon, it also came out that Joshua Fialkov was off of the two Green Lantern books he was announced as the new writer for...before his run even started.

It's weird that DC is a comics publisher whose behind-the-scenes personnel decisions are infinitely more exciting to read about then the comic books featuring superheroes and supervillains they publish are, isn't it?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Review: Stormwatch Vol. 1: The Dark Side

DC Comics seems to have always struggled with what, exactly, they should do with the WildStorm imprint they bought from founder Jim Lee, a move which, in retrospect, seems like a move reluctantly taken not because they necessarily wanted to publish comics featuring any of the WildStorm characters or concepts, but because they wanted founder Jim Lee working for them (That, or they wanted to get their hands on more Alan Moore material they could sell in graphic novel form for pretty much ever).

After messing about with the imprint for a long while, including rebooting the WildStorm "universe" a couple of times, when they last restored their multiverse, they gave the WildStorm Universe it's own Earth, one of the 52 parallel worlds that made up the DC Multiverse. When they decided to reboot everything, they folded the WildStorm Universe (along with the handful of DC Universe characters whose books were published under the mature readers Vertigo imprint umbrella) into the DCU proper, forming The New 52iverse in the cosmic climax of the Flashpoint miniseries.

For the most part, the WildStorm imports haven't fared well. Voodoo was one of the first New 52 books to be canceled, Grifter has been canceled and books prominently featuring WildStorm characters like Ravagers and Team 7, later launching titles meant to replace canceled books, were themselves canceled almost immediately.

Stormwatch is still standing, although probably not for much longer. It's about to pass into the hands of its third writer in the year-and-a-half since it was launched in 2011, and that third writer is going to Jim Starlin, who will be launching the book in a new direction, including Jim Starlin creation Jim Starlin's The Weird.

Having just read the first collection of the series, which includes the first six issues by original writer Paul Cornell and artist Miguel Sepulveda (plus Al Barrionuevo on parts of the second issue), I'm kind of surprised its lasted even this long. Like Cornell's other New 52 book Demon Knights (which has also since passed into the hands of another writer), Stormwatch features a pretty good script with some fairly sharp writing, but poor art that all but nullifies it. In this case, the artwork is much worse than that in Demon Knights however, and I found myself struggling just to make it through the whole volume. I think I would have preferred to just read a collection of the scripts.

Stormwatch was originally a Jim Lee creation, a sort of U.N.-sanctioned super-group of the sort Image Comics had a surfeit of. After runs by a few writers of note, including Ron Marz, writer Warren Ellis slowly but surely started turning it into higher and higher-quality book, ultimately remaking it into his The Authority, a millennial hit he produced with artist Bryan Hitch. They were followed by Mark Millar, who made his name on the over-the-top superhero series, with artist Frank Quitely and others.

Cornell gets the title Stormwatch, but the cast, their headquarters and other elements he uses are taken more from Ellis' Authority. His Stormwatch is an ultra-secretive group of power superhumans whose sole mission is defend earth from alien invasion, which they do from The Carrier, an alien warship parked in hyperspace. They are managed by a shadowy group known as The Shadow Cabinet (a name from another abandoned DC imprint).

At the book's opening, Stormwatch consists of The Engineer, Jack Hawksmoor and Jenny Quantam (all from The Authority) and The Martian Manhunter (featuring his third costume redesign and second head-shape redesign since 2006), plus new characters Adam One (an immortal born infinitely old during the Big Bang and aging backwards since), The Projectionist (whose superpower is the ability to control information media) and The Eminence of Blades (history's greatest swordsman, who has special lying powers).

Adam One is the team's nominal leader, but his spaciness born of his de-aging process frustrates many of the other characters, each of whom think they would make better team leaders. Their attention is divided among two tasks: There's an alien entity taking over the moon and using it to attack Earth for its own mysterious agenda (it wants to toughen Earth up, essentially training the planet to help prepare it for an even greater threat that is apparently on its way), and the team would really like to recruit reluctant superhero Apollo (another holdover from The Authority), something The Midnighter (ditto) also wants. Midnighter thinks he and Apollo should form their own team, and could do more good together than they could working with or for Stormwatch.

And that's pretty much the plot of the first six issues. The surface conflict is about as simple as superhero comics get; "the moon" attacks Earth by showering it with meteors and monsters, of the generic teeth and tentacles variety. That really shouldn't take up more than 22 pages—40 tops— stretched out to over 100. To Cornell's credit, that stretching allows room for plenty of characterization, and interpersonal conflicts between the characters, but the narrative can't help but feel a little flabby, due in large part to all of the stops for splash pages that show off nothing of any great interest—bad renderings of indistinct objects, mostly.

I didn't care for Sepulveda's art at all. Certainly, some of that is stylistic. He goes for "realistic," something there is certainly precedent for with this group of characters, but because of the over-the-top nature of Cornell's story, it's not particularly well-served by that style.

In any case, the art isn't very good. At the risk of sounding overly cruel, it looks like someone who can't draw at all trying to produce Bryan Hitch-like imagery using only coloring effects and photo-collaging, with the only actual drawing going on around the faces of the characters. Many pages look a bit like Barry Kitson drew faces in the middle of a bunch of coloring effects. These effects are so prominent that it can be hard to see the art underneath them at all, and on nearly every page I found myself asking "What am I looking at?" and answering "I don't know or care, but I don't like looking at it."

Here, look at this sequence, in which Martian Manhunter's shape-changing powers are revealed:
Sepulveda's affects this by overlaying the form J'onn is in with the form he's taking in one panel between the two forms, the comics equivalent of a cheap TV special effect from the 1960s or so. There are lots of ways to intimate shape-changing powers—during his JLA run, for example, Howard Porter drew J'onn and the White Martians semi-dissolving into little sandstorms of molecules when transforming—and this method isn't invalid or anything. But note that his arm doesn't move at all in that second image, and his size increases so dramatically that he moves closer to the reader.

Basically, Sepulveda didn't want to draw John in human form twice when he could get away with doing it once, so while the script says John lost concentration and slipped back into Martian form by accident, he does so without moving his arm, which was lowering his sunglasses. In other words, his body parts haven't transformed into a different shape, but he turned from one immobile shape to another; his forms aren't action figures so much as sculptures (He changes shape twice more; in one instance, the super-imposed image process is used again, while in the other a special effect suggesting light being bent ripples over his limbs).

Oh, and Sepulveda's Jenny Quantam?
She's a hobbit.

While the art is pretty terrible, it's not all Sepulveda's fault. The book's colorists Alex Sinclair, Allen Passalaqua and Pete Pantazis deserve some castigation, as well—maybe if every millimeter of every page wasn't flashing, glowing and resembling a photograph, the book wouldn't look so terrible (Oh hey, was that the problem? Did all three colorists all color ever page? No wonder the art looks so busy!).

And he's not responsible for these terrible character designs. The Engineer and Jack look unchanged (Well, Sepulveda seems to draw Jack in capris instead of suit pants, but otherwise...). Jenny is just a little girl wearing little girl clothes. Apollo's costume looks okay, and the most radical change with his look is his haircut.

I have no idea what to make of Midnighter's redesign. He originally looked like movie Batman with his ears sanded off, and his cape exchanged for a black trench coat. Now he looks like a leatherboy nightmare, and, for some reason, he wears a lot of bulky armor for a fighter who is so good he should rarely if ever get hit, and he has big spike on his chin reason, I'm sure.

Martian Manhunter, I don't even know where to start with him.
There's a sketchbook section in the back of the book that notes how much trouble they had coming up with a design for J'onn (I thought the last redesign, a variation of his classic costume, but with pants instead of a pair of panties and pirate boots, looked fine). Ultimately, Jim Lee had to step in for a final design, and, in Lee's sketch, we see J'onn's arms are armor-like, and his head is super-weird now, sunken on the sides with a raised, ribbed ridge on either side and funny earl-like shapes. There are sketches of earlier versions by Cully Hamner in which he was apparently also flirting with giving J'onn a new nose.

What I found most interesting in this portion of the book is how many artists were involved with these designs: Hamner (Jenny, Adam, Apollo, Midnighter, Jack), Lee (J'onn), Sepulveda (Engineer, Projectionist) and even Joe Prado (Eminence of Blades). Crazy Jane, a character featured rather prominently in Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol run, was apparently also considered for inclusion in the cast, and even designed. They apparently did a lot of work and had a lot of talented folks behind these designs, but when it came time to actually draw the comic, the designs are almost always buried by coloring effects or weird storytelling choices (The Eminence of Blades, for example, spends most of the first six issues wearing a space suit, so he just looks like a generic astronaut holding some glowing blue swords).

The Hamner drawings show a lot of life in them, life lacking form the characters in the actual story and are also drawings, and thus suggest comic book characters in a way that the comic itself fails to. Paul Cornell and Cully Hamner's Stormwatch might have been an alright comic. Hell, Paul Cornell and Miguel Sepulveda's pencils-only Stormwatch might have been an alright comic.

But the comic DC actually published? I think it's probably the worst of New 52 I've read so far, and I've only been reading the ones that at least look or sound promising to me.