Saturday, September 07, 2013

Comic shop comics: September 4

Batman and Robin #23.1 (DC Comics) As regular readers know, when it comes to spending money on comic books, my fist is almost as tight as Uncle Scrooge's (although my fist has one extra finger, and is much less pale than his). So naturally, I bought the $2.99, non-silly cover version of this book, and of the only other "Villain's Month" special issue/one-shot I bought off the rack this week (see below). As I said before, I do wish DC would have made it known these regular-priced, regular-covered versions would be available from the start, as I likely would have pre-ordered a bunch from my shop, and made the life of my shop-owner slightly easier, but when I heard they were going $3.99 for a whole month, I just sort of assumed that meant I would be taking the month of September off because, again, I'm cheap.

With the extra buck knocked off though, this purchase was an easy buy for me: While I'm sorta neutral on Two-Face and Batman (I like 'em both fine, but there are so many stories of each, I don't do a cartwheel every time I see a new one featuring either of them), this one is written by Peter Tomasi (who has written more good Batman comics than bad Batman comics, and more good comics in general than bad comics in general), and drawn by Guillem March, one of my favorite artists working at DC at the moment who, for reasons unfathomable to me, doesn't seem to have landed an ultimate, awesome gig yet (I'd rather read his Batman than Capullo's, for example...and Capullo's a pretty good artist. Meanwhile David Finch, a pretty bad artist, is drawing the company's biggest book of the next few months).

This story is, at least in its first half, fairly directly tied in to the events of Forever Evil, although the staging and setting varies. The Scarecrow approaches Two-Face and offers him a new coin, one of those communicator/membership coins that Earth-3's Evil Alfred has been handing out to villains in his Secret Society. Two-Face, however, was in the middle of making his own decision with his own coin: Should he save Gotham, "or make it bleed."

If you read Forever Evil first, you already know whether Two-Face is in or out, but after an intense conversation with The Scarecrow atop the Bat-signal (a setting with dramatic lighting possibilities that March apparently really likes), Two-Face decides to save the apparently Batman-less Gotham (not sure where all the police officers and all the sidekicks who aren't Nightwing went, either), his way. Shooting and beating criminals, he eventually rounds them all up into a courthouse, and flips the coin to decide whether they get the death penalty (regardless of crime) or life in prison.

The villains include the goofy ones Tomasi invented for the "Terminus" arc of Batman and Robin (collected in Vol. 2: Pearl), the ones who were badly deformed by encounters with Batman, like Bootface and Scallop and so on.

Tomasi doesn't really waste time with Two-Face's origin story, which is good, because after all the comics, cartoons and two movie, it's doubtful anyone reading this comic wouldn't already know it. Instead, he simply suggests some of the basics, like the fact that he was previously a crusading district attorney, which he does in a series of panel which jump from the present to the past as Two-Face moves through the same courthouse he used to work in.
March's work (which I've already discussed once this week) is, as always, top notch, and nowhere is that more clear than in his Two-Face, which is based on the Batman: The Animated Series version, only with a red scarred face. The right, "good" half of Harvey Dent "acts" with a range that moves from subtle to operatic, while the other half is always frozen in the same staring, grimacing expression.

As a fan of Scarecrow and March, I was particularly excited to see his version of The Scarecrow, which, as I know I've discussed before, is something I always look forward to seeing given how greatly each artist tends to vary that design (Particularly compared to those of the other Bat-villains, who generally dress the same no matter who is drawing them).

Unfortunately, March's Scarecrow isn't really March's Scarecrow. Since the New 52 relaunch, the Scarecrow has been remarkably consistent in look and design from artist to artist, never wearing  a hat or coat or having stray hair, for example. Rather, he has the Batman Begins bag over his head, and little variation (unless you count Gregg Hurwitz and David Finch's decision to have him sew his own lips together, so that blood is always pouring from the lower half of his face).

Here's how March draws the design though:
Pretty simple in terms of clothing, which, under Finch's pencils, was saturated with little lines. He also seems to have added the Animated Series' noose. Most of the scariness comes in the eyes though, which he draws as soul-less little pin-points of light.

Legends of the Dark Knight #12 (DC) Two stories this week, both of interest for the fact that they're set somewhere in the future, the way they're unmoored from any continuity and for having clever twists to them, the latter more so than the former (the former is basically all twist, after some lovely scary art).

First up, Rafael Albuquerque writes and illustrates "Adaptation," which begins like an adaptation of The Killing Joke, before revealing itself to be a terrible dream being suffered by the aged, bald and bearded Bruce Wayne, whose success at Batmanning over the years has left Gotham city a crime-free paradise. And, of course, Batman bored. Riffing on Frank Miller's Dark Knight (if only he coulda worked in Year One, he woulda hit a trifecta of 1980s foundational Batman classics!), there's a voice in Wayne's head begging to get out and address the world around him...but it's not the expected voice.

It's a nice enough little character sketch/twist story, of the sort that woulda fit in perfectly in an issue of Batman: Black and White (Oh shit, I forgot to buy the first issue of the new volume of Batman: Black and White!) were it not for Dave McCaig's moody colors. Also, Albuquerque seems to have arranged it so he got to draw not only Batman, but many of his bigger least for a panel or two.

The second story is actually the first part of a continuing one (which is kinda weird, really), written by the almost always interesting Peter Milligan and drawn by Ricardo Burchielli. It's called "Return of Batman" and focuses on the economics of the character and, to a certain extent, how the gadget-y movie Batman has supplanted the original (Which you can see by picking up almost any Batman comic today; the Batman you'll find has more in common in look, design and fighting tactics with the one from the Arkham games and the Christopher Nolan films than the guy who used to star in all the comics).

As the economy tanks, Bruce Wayne is losing money like almost everyone else, which makes his crime-fighting endeavors a little harder. In an opening action sequence, he uses a personal Bat-wing device with a form of stealth and force-field protecting it to chase down a few would-be terrorists serving Ra's al Ghul ("You're current mission alone has probably cost over $150,000," Alfred scolds Batman, "And you're not even up against The Joker. He's really expensive").

After things reach a crisis point, Bruce decides he needs to put away all those toys and go back to basics, after a training montage. The title of the story hints at whether or not he can do it, but as this is to be continued next issue, we don't get our answer right away.

The artwork is pretty strong all around, especially when it comes to accentuating the high-tech version of Batman we meet at the beginning, but I don't really care for the way Burchielli draw's Bruce's hair. He gives him a widow-peak that echoes Ra's'; that might be intentional, and a signal that this is a possible near future Batman, but it's a lame-ass hairstyle never-the-less.  Once you start to recede, you've just gotta shave your head, Batman!

Superior Foes of Spider-Man #2-3 (Marvel Entertainment) The bad news is that I missed issue #2 on whatever Wednesday it was released, and didn't get to read it until today. The good news? I got to read two issues in a row of Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber's series about lame-ass Spider-Man villain The Boomerang and his compatriots in The Sinister Six, of which there are now only five: The Shocker, Overdrive, The (female) Beetle and Speed Demon (The Chameleon's not on the team, but he's involved; maybe that makes him the sixth member in a way, or maybe Spencer just likes the joke of a team with the word six in their name that doesn't have six members).

Marvel's producing so many good comics (that aren't $3.99, so I'm actually reading) at the moment—Daredevil, Hawkeye, FF, Young Avengers—that I hesitate to call any of them the best or even my favorite, but I'll be damned if this book doesn't seem like the best and isn't my favorite while I'm actually reading it.

Like all of those other comics I mentioned in the previous paragraph, it has an extremely idiosyncratic look, with art that you know at a flip-through couldn't be mistaken for that of any of the other Marvel books (and certainly none of the DC books, which have relative few—and getting fewer!—books with their own look and aesthetic feel).

This one is their sad-sack villain book, the one that reads a lot like a crime book featuring real criminals (albeit ones with suits and powers...or "powers"), rather than would-be world-beaters and master villains. Spencer usually plays it for laughs, of the sort born of the characters and their conflicts (and their exasperated acknowledgment of their place in the world of Doctor Doom and The Avengers), rather than forced situations. (It's a comedy, not a sitcom).

Lieber's designs, art style and storytelling chops are perfectly suited to a crime comic, which makes him even more perfect for this book, as the comedy seems all the more natural. The book doesn't look funny; it is funny.

In #2, the five members of the Six take on a neat, "only in New York" crime, which is violently interrupted by The Punisher (their reactions to the his appearance are awesome).

In #3, the one with the particularly cool cover by Michael Del Mundo (has no one used that gag before? It seems like a gag someone would have used by now; either way, the look on Franklin's face sure sells this one), Boomerang gets a superhero parole officer (The original Beetle, now gone straight and calling himself Mach VII), attends a sort of villains anonymous therapy group and tells two versions of the tale of Silvio Silvermane. This issue was so full of story, it read more like a trade collection than most trade collections do. Highest recommendation possible!

Seriously guys, while this isn't the best comic of the year or anything (Oh my God, you have to read Boxers & Saints! Jesus), it may just be the best super-comic of the year. Like Daredevil, Hawkeye, those comics? By this point, everyone knew those were good and were gonna continue to be good. A Sinister Six comic book spinning out of—at least in terms of marketing—the Doctor Octopus-in-Peter Parker's body story in Amazing Spider-Man? Who could have predicted that would end up being so good? In addition to its overall quality, Superior Foes has the element of pleasant surprise in its favor.

Superman #23.1 (DC) I know that the cover sure makes this look like Bizarro #1, and at least one of the checklist-style house ads DC put together for their "Villain's Month" suggests that the books bear the titles of the villains pictured on the cover, but according tot he fine print, this is actually just Superman #23.1, so I'm going with that, even though it's hard to imagine anyone actually discussing the book in these terms. I guess a comic shop owner would know better, but I can't imagine many of them taking calls like "Hey, do you guys have any 3D covers of Batman #23.1 left?" And, if they did, I'm pretty sure they would answer with, "Oh, The Joker issue?"

But the main problem with the titling of this particular comic book is that whether they call it Superman #23.1  or Bizarro #1, it would still be mislabeled: This is a Lex Luthor story, with Superman only appearing in a few imaginary and flashback-inary panels, and the "Bizarro" in the book never taking anything approaching the form of the character on the cover, or going by the name "Bizarro."

Writer Sholly Fisch is a smart guy though, and he at least tries to incorporate that into this one-shot story, noting on the first page that a Superman/Bizarro story without Bizarro or Superman even really in it is appropriate to the nature of the backwards character:
This is a tale of imperfection. It begins with an ending and ends with a beginning. A villain is the hero, and a hero is the villain. Its main character remains behind the scenes.
That beginning is during the New 52's "Year One" era of "five years ago,"  when the Superman of Grant Morrison's Action Comics is busting out of the military facility Lex Luthor was torturing him in. Lex acquires a blood sample during the tussle, and then, two years later (the chain of events is a little wonky, as their are tags saying "Five Years Ago" and "Today" but none saying "Three Years Ago," when this story takes place), Lex begins trying to build an army of his own Supermen using the genuine article's DNA.

In this story, he tries to give the Captain America treatment to a skinny volunteer (who wears a Superman t-shirt to the proceedings, to Lex's annoyance), and it goes horribly wrong, turning him into a white-skinned hulk that smashes through all of Lex's anti-Superman measures with its brute strength,"cryonic vision" and "incendiary breath."

In what seems to be a surprisingly common thread in these decimal point-ed one-shots, the book has seemingly nothing at all to do with <i>Forever Evil</i>. At least, not so far. The book ends with the intimation that Luthor's continued work on this project since, and given the fact that someone went to the trouble to design a New 52 Bizarro (and David Finch has stuck him on the covers of <i>Forever Evil</i>), a version of the character should eventually appear. (Oh hey, this might not be the best time or place to point it out, but here's a great example of why it was so important for Jim Lee to absolutely nail the Superman costume redesign, something I think its pretty universally agreed upon outside of DC HQ that he failed to do: So many secondary characters are based on Superman, that if his costume doesn't look quite right, neither do they. We've already seen Supergirl and Superboy and Ultraman, and now we're getting the Cyborg Superman and, of course, here's Bizarro, who is not really wearing a version of either New 52 Superman costume. He's mixed-and-matched the two, which seems appropriate, but the result doesn't suggest a backwards or out-of-synch Superman the way the costume of the original Bizarro did).

Oh, and in the grand tradition of comics bloggers and critics either ignoring the contributions of the artist or simply throwing in a sentence at the end barely acknowledging their contributions, let me say this: Jeff Johnson penciled the book and Andy Smith inked it. Their art is very polished and very professional looking in a way that, frankly, too little New 52 art is. Great job, Jeff Johnson and Andy Smith! (And give this team a steady gig on one of your many shitty-looking books, DC!)


Aki Alaraatikka said...

Sif is also great, I`ve read. And Thor, God of thunder.

Mr. Whiskas said...

Wow, I had no idea you could get regular cover versions of the Sept. DC issues for 2.99! Thanks for the heads up!