Friday, January 31, 2014

The evolution of Evil Star

Golden Age villain Evil Star, a criminal with a star-shaped mask that tried to sabotage a Hollywood film.

The Silver Age Evil Star, who had as much to do with his Golden Age predecessor as the Silver Age Green Lantern did the Golden Age GL, drawn by co-creator Gil Kane.

A more modern drawing of the same essential version of the character, drawn by Travis Charest.

And the new, New 52 version, introduced in Green Lantern Corps Annual #2, in the above passage drawn by Tom Derenick (and written by Van Jensen and Robert Venditti).

Notice the difference?

He's still evil (or at least a pathologically selfish coward), and he still has a star symbol on his person, but, purely in terms of appearance, he's less colorful, less dramatic, less recognizable and all-around less interesting.

The bland redesign is, like so many of the the New 52, counterintuitive of the stated goals of the line-wide reboot and redesign—to make DC's comics more accessible and appealing to a bigger, broader audience—when one considers that, as goofy as the costume the guy wore for 35 years was, it did show up in a couple of cartoons, meaning it was seen by hundreds of thousands of more people than Green Lantern Corps Annual #2 will ever be seen by (A coupla episodes of Justice League Unlimited, one of Batman: The Brave and The Bold and an old Green Lantern short of sub-Super Friends quality from long, long ago).

The new look does seem to meet what seems to be the actual goal of the reboot-born redesigns: Creating more "realistic" characters and costumes that could be more easily adapted into live-action films, television or Arkham-style video-games.

Thursday, January 30, 2014


I have an interview with Lucy Knisley regarding her two upcoming travelogues that Fantagraphics is publishing at ComicsAlliance this week, if you'd like to go read it. The books, the first of which I was able to read an early proof of, are travelogues in the style of Knisley's French Milk, but created by the cartoonist after Relish. What amazed me most about An Age of License, however, was learning that Knisley actually writes and draws her travelogues while traveling. Given the difficulty I have in making comics of any kind (even, like, the little 10-panel colored pencils-on-index cards I put online like three times a year now), I'm pretty astounded that she's able to force herself to create such accomplished work under such challenging circumstances.

Art by Robson Rocha and Scott Hanna
And at Robot 6, I have short-ish (for me) reviews of this week's DC annuals, if you'd like to read that piece. These are Batman and Robin, Earth 2, Green Lantern Corps and Worlds' Finest. They all seem fairly well-done, and regular readers/fans of those books will probably want to read them, although only the Batman and Robin one seems worth going out of one's way for, if one doesn't already read Batman and Robin, but is a fan of Batman and/or Robins I and IV (By the way, Peter Tomasi reveals that Dick Grasyon became Robin at age 16 in it, and I believe Dick Grayson's age is one of those Rosetta Stones of DCU continuity with which one can figure out and therefore start to unravel the poor publisher's just-established new timeline).

The Earth 2 book is the origin of the new Batman II, which reveals his surprising secret identity and some other weirdness. As was pointed out to me on Twitter, it explicitly states that Thomas and Martha Wayne were shot in Crime Alley in 1979 which, combined with other temporal clues in the book, means Thomas Wayne was 25 when he was shot by Joe Chill, and thus 17-19 when he had Bruce, depending on whether Bruce was six or eight at the time of his parents' murder. But, Thomas Wayne was already on his residency and about to become a full-fledged doctor some time before he had even met Martha, so Thomas Wayne is essentially the Doogie Howers of Earth-2.

Something I didn't notice (nor, apparently, did editor Mike Cotton, assistant editor Anthony Marques or group editor Eddie Berganza), but a commenter on the Robot 6 did was the surname of the Rex that the dude in the panel above stole Miralco from.

This is the superhero identity of Rex Mason:
Metamorpho, The Element Man, the shape-changing hero who can alter his body's composition to that of any element found in the human body...or in nature, depending on who is writing his adventures and during what part of his fictional career they are set (And who I don't think has been introduced into The New 52-iverse yet, but, if he were, would/should be native to Earth-New 52, not Earth-2).

And this is the superhero identity of Rex Tyler:
Hourman, the chemist who developed an addictive super-drug known as Miralco that gives him super-strength, speed and endurance...but only for one hour a day.

While maybe not glaring (like I said, I didn't even notice while reading and even when quoting it in my review), it's a pretty big error, and one that can't be no-prized least, not if they want to eventually introduce Hourman into the fledling Justice Society in Earth 2 (And why wouldnt they? Hourman is awesome).

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

I only have one problem with this teaser image...

Here's the latest of those little clue-laden teaser images that DC occasionally publishes, which my paymasters at Comic Book Resources claim is "exclusive" to them, but I don't think that word means what they think it means because, ha ha, now it's on my site! (And also in all of the DC Comics that came out this week).

These things can be fun to look at, in large part because of the extremely vague "clues" as to future directions and plot points for various comics, which can really mean whatever the creators want them to mean, particularly since those directions and plot points seem subject to whiplash-fast change.

Anyway, this one seems to deal with the "Dark" portion of the current DC publishing line, featuring characters from books like Justice League Dark, Constantine, Swamp Thing and the two Trinity of Sin books.

I'm intrigued by Aquaman's out-of-place presence among all the magic characters, and the glowing orange snake, which resembles Ophidian, the avatar entity of "Avarice" on Geoff Johns' emotional spectrum of the DC Universe, as Larfleeze and/or the other five Lantern books don't seem to have much to do with all these magic characters and Vertigo imports.

I'm curious as to the identities of a couple of characters, including the lady with short blond hair behind Deadman, the two people right behind Constantine (I think I've seen the lady before, but I can't remember which book I saw her in), and, of course, what's up with that cat (CBR says its name is Socks, but I can't find a Socks in my DC Super-Pets Character Encyclopedia).

I'm reminded how much I hate the design of Pandora (who I just noticed has similar face lines to Rachel Grey of the X-Men, having just read a bunch of X-Men comics) and the re-designs of Etrigan and Black Orchid.

But really, the only thing I could see when looking at this image for the first time is Amethyt, Princess of Gem World's sword dick:
Artist Howard Porter probably could have moved her sword hand just a tad to her right, or tilted her hips away from the phallic symbol a bit.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Review: Wolverine and The X-Men Vol. 2

According to the fine print on the title page, the name of this book is actually Wolverine & The X-Men By Jason Aaron Vol. 2, a title which undervalues the artists to the point of ignoring them (which is something of a convention among Marvel's trade program, as ...By Some Writer Or Another tends to appear in a lot of their collection titles) and is at this point a meaningless distinction, since the only Wolverine and The X-Men book has been written by Jason Aaron (the distinction will become more important later this year, when they begin collecting the rebooted Wolverine and The X-Men, which will be written by Jason Latour starting in March).

I'm going to just stick to calling it Wolverine and The X-Men  though, as that's what it says on the cover (And, besides, as great a writer as Jason Aaron might be when it comes to this sort of thing, it's pencil artist Nick Bradshaw that really makes this series sing, and he draws three-fourths of this slim collection of four issues (Chris Bachalo draws the final issue).

With the basic premise of the series and its core cast nailed down in the previous volume, this one focuses on two of the teachers and two of the students, and their relationships.

The Bradshaw-drawn portion opens with the board of Worthington Industries stripping CEO Earren Worthington III, aka the now amnesiac Angel, of his power (and funds) due to his clearly having gone a little Looney Tunes, drying up a potential source of revenue for Wolverine's cash-strapped school. Meanwhile, Professor The Beast is taking a class shrunk to microscopic size on a Fantastic Voyage tour of the mutant body, to let readers now that shrinking X-Men down to microscopic size and inserting them into a mutant body is a thing Beast can do just in case that comes up later in the story.

And, as it turns out, it does! Wolverine takes Kid Omega with him to a space casino, where he hopes to have the young mutants psychic abilities allow him to cheat the house and win enough space money to keep the school doors open, and while those two are off causing trouble in space, trouble from space visits the school, in the form of the millions of microscopic Brood aliens filling Kitty Pryde's apparently pregnant belly and a big, scary alien scientist, who is visiting the school to exterminate Broo, the mutant Brood alien (Beast and the X-Men fight the teensy Brood horde inside Kitty, while she and Broo face the big, scary alien outside her).

It's the sort of storytelling Aaron excels at—ideas and action so big and crazy they are more than a little bit silly, but with the characters embracing and reacting to it with either deadpan serious acceptance or the sort of winking commentary that lets readers now that the super-people, like their writer and their audience, is aware of how this all looks. It also gives Bradshaw his most ample opportunity yet to show off his design skills, as he not only gets to draw the many and varied characters of the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning, but also all sorts of aliens and space ships and whatnot...and not a corner of a panel looks the least bit phoned-in. Bradshaw is drawing his fingers off in this series.

Which might explain why he's not drawing every issue (That, or perhaps Marvel was publishing it more-than-monthly? Now I don't remember how long ago they started doing their randomly accelerated publishing schedule on books that weren't Amazing Spider-Man).

The Bachalo-drawn fourth issue is more-or-less an epilogue, with Wolverine finding himself (extremely) temporarily confined to a wheel chair ala Xavier thanks to a blast from an alien weapon that mangled his legs beyond his healing factor's ability to mend, and the kids going to the casino to beat the hell out of it. Meanwhile, Sabretooth and Beast fight in space at the S.W.O.R.D. headquarters, with Beast and Agent Abigail Brand eventually winning the day after getting their asses kicked pretty hard (and after lots of SWORD extras get killed, mostly off-panel).

The shift in tone is just as dramatic in the shift in art styles, going from Silver Age zany to Dark Age melodramatic in the space of an issue, but the X-Men are a big and varied enough container that they fit all that and more...especially the way Aaron writes them.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Review: Earth 2 Vol. 2: The Tower of Fate

The second collection of the James Robinson-written, mostly Nicola Scott-drawn Earth 2 series collects the second half of the first year of the series, containing issues #7-12, plus the September 2012 #0 issue.      It's only at that end of that last issue that the "Justice Society" team starts to really coalesce, with four of the superheroes—Green Lantern, Flash, Hawkgirl and the newly-introduced Doctor Fate—deciding to stick together and set up a sort of headquarters. That makes it pretty clear that Robinson is—or, rather was—playing a rather long game with the plotting of the series, which, it turns out, ends up being to its detriment, as Robinson leaves the title just four issues after that, replaced by new writer Tom Taylor.

Whatever it was that Robinson was trying to accomplish then, he spent a lot of time getting there, without ever actually arriving. It should be noted, too, that this series has been rather confoundingly weird. The expectation was that, given the stars—Green Lantern Alan Scott, Flash Jay Garrick, The Atom Al Pratt, etc—it would be a sort of New 52 JSA title, set in modern times and on an alternate Earth from the one the rest of the DCU was set on.

It sort of is, but the setting varies quite dramatically from the real world. That is, it's not really the real world + superheroes, but a sci-fi, alternate history world + superheroes. The world is organized into a one world government, with a one-world army—the creatively named World Army—employing nasty, soldier versions of familiar DC Golden Agers—the aforementioned Atom, Wesley Dodds and The Sandmen, Terry Sloane—to hunt rebel superheroes like GL, Flash and Hawkgirl. The world was warped, deformed and depopulated by a full-scale invasion from Apokolips, one that killed some heroes and left Steppenwolf stranded on this world.

It's an unlikely fusion of Jack Kirby's Fourth World mythology and the old Golden Age characters of National Comics, as filtered through the now defunct, millennial JSA series that James Robinson helped found (and David Goyer and Geoff Johns continued in various combinations). I originally thought the use of the Apokoplyptian armies in the opening issues was meant merely as a way to compare and contrast Earth 2 with Earth-New 52 (as the new continuity's first comic, Justice League, opened with the League's founders rallying together to stave off an invasion by Darkseid himself), and as a way to kill of this world's Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman to make room for the second-stringers who would eventually star, but Robinson is apparently keeping the plot going indefinitely.

Issue #0 heavily features the Earth/Apokolips war, #8 is entirely devoted to Steppenwolf conquering the fictional country of Dherain, and there is a brief teaser appearance by Mister Miracle and Barda (apparently squeezed into the end of an issue just to give DC something "shocking" to put on the gatefold cover during what was once going to be called "W.T.F. Certified" month). At one point, the spirit of Nabu refers to Hawkgirl as a warrior of Horus, and indeed her helmet does look a little Egyptian in design, and with Fate, Flash and GL all endowed with magical powers here—Flash literally given the speed of Mercury/Hermes by the dying old god—I thought perhaps Earth 2 was setting up its heroes as the "New Gods" who would battle Darkseid and his evil armies, but that doesn't seem to be the case after all, as the conflict following this series seems to involve new, evil versions of the dead trinity (An evil Wonder Woman, Wondy's grown-up daughter Fury, is introduced here as Steppenwolf' thrall, fighting with a glowing red combination whip/noose).

So really, I have no idea what's going on with this book. As of the end of the second volume, it seems like it's still putting a team together, and is almost there, but I also know that the next trade will feature the end of Robinson's run...and maybe two godawful Villains Months one-shots (Earth 2 #15.1, the Desaad issue was, if I'm remembering correctly, one of the most unreadable of those issues).

So this volume opens with the zero issue, which is split between telling two stories narrated by Terry Sloane (The Golden Age Mr. Terrific, who is here some sort of ruthless Lex Luthor type whose superhero identity was Mr. 8, and Mr. Terrific II, who, post-reboot, is now the only Mr. Terrific, and has bounced between Earth 2 and Earth New-52 in a way that confuses me). I honestly couldn't make heads or tails out of the second story, which is especially weird in that a) I read the previous volume of this series and b) it was a #0 issue, and meant to explain things to new readers and serve as a good jumping-on point.

From there we get a check-in-with-our-heroes story and then the introduction of Steppenwolf and Fury, and then the title story actually starts, with Nicola Scott's art finally appearing in this volume. The World Army, Atom and Dodds go after Jay Garrick's mom, and he rescues her with the help of Khaled, a young student who discovered the Helm of Fate on the same mission that gave Hawkgirl her wings, and a young, handsome version of the green-skinned Wotan.

Wotan summons the trio to Nabu's realm, where the Tower of Fate is, and commands that the Khaled and the Flash retrieve the Helm for him. Khaled reluctantly finds and then dons the helm, becoming New 52 Doctor Fate, and then he has to fight Wotan.

The title story in this collection is actually pretty good, and Robinson and Scott reinvent aspects of the Fate story in interesting ways, including rebuilding Fate's Tower into something spectacular (and very different) looking, and putting a guardian monster in it, one with a twisted set of horns of various sizes forming a sort of crown atop its head. The insides of the tower is still Escher-like, but filled with all sorts of classical and ancient architecture, not unlike George Perez's version of Olympus, only drawn-out into a rectangular box, rather than a sphere. Scott's are on one spread of the tower interior—reproduced in the backmatter as pencils only—is so intricately drawn, it seems a shame they bothered coloring it at all, and one wonders what a black-and-white Nicola Scott book might look like.

Their Fate is pretty well conceived (Kent Nelson is involved, even if, like Hawkgirl, he's no longer the person under the mask and using the codename), and seems like a strong enough concept to carry his own title, if they ever start spinning solo books out of Earth 2.
I'm not crazy about the costume design, in which the blue and gold are now black (with a bright blue starfield that seems to come and go) and highly-polished, ornate gold accessories that reflect light and the images of objects and people close to them. In other words, it's a little busy, and far too realistic, but, compared to the way a lot of New 52 redesigns have turned out, it could have been a lot worse (And, in fact, there have been worse Fate designs. It was a reminder, however, how weird it is that DC didn't ask Alex Ross to redesign their line rather than Jim Lee; his Kingdom Come Doctor Fate was one of the man great redesigns in that seminal series, in which most of the Golden Age characters came out looking better than most other attempts to update them. Take it's Mercury's helmet-wearing version of The Flash and compare it to Earth 2's Flash, for example).

While Scott pencils the four-issue origin story of the new Doctor Fate (and Trevor Scott inks it), the earlier chapters of the book are from a variety of fill-in artists of generally inferior skills. Tomas Giorello (whose Wonder Woman's skirt won't stay down and chest-plate just barely stays up) and Tom Derenick split the zero issue, while Yildiray Cinar pencils #7 and #8 (Trevor Scott inking the former, Ryan Winn and Ruy Jose the latter).

I'm kind of curious to see where this title goes in the next trade or two, given the seemingly sudden departure of its writer, but not quite as curious as I would have been to see where it would have gone had Robinson stuck around to finish whatever the hell he was going for with it.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Review: Indestructible Hulk Vol. 2: Gods and Monster

That's a great page, the final one of one issue of the Mark Waid-written Indestructible Hulk title, a cliffhanger that leads into the very next issue. As any Marvel comics reader can tell you, no one can pick up Thor's magic hammer, no matter how strong they are—and The Hulk is, as he likes to remind everyone, the strongest one there is—unless they are deemed worthy of doing so, which pretty much means "just Thor" (I think both Wonder Woman and Superman picked it up during DC Vs. Marvel and JLA/Avengers,  respectively though, and that Storm and Captain America were among the Marvel Universe folks to be able to lift it).

That sort of cliffhanger, in which Hulk is seemingly violating the firmly and long-established rules in a comic written by Mark Waid—a writer, if ever there was one, who knows all the old superhero rules—is of the sort that I bet it drove a lot of readers a little crazy, as Jeph Loeb regularly did when he was writing (Red) Hulk. And, had you read the issues serially, that's 30 days of wondering how on earth Hulk picked up Thor's hammer (For me, reading in trade, it was a few minutes).

When the next issue/chapter opens, we see Hulk flying through the air with mjolnir, smashing apart Frost Giants. It's not until a few pages in that it becomes clear what's what: Hulk just so happened to reach for the hammer at the exact same time Thor was calling his enchanted weapon back to him, so Hulk didn't pick it up so much as it picked him up, and took him for a giant-smashing ride on its way back to its master's hand.

That was pretty cool. (The only way that scene could have been improved? If, perhaps instead of "HRRAAARGH!", Waid had Hulk say "WHEEEEEE!")

The Thor team-up that gives the second collected volume of Indestructible Hulk its sub-title accounts for 3/5ths of the book, the rest of it being a team-up with Daredevil, a hero Waid is writing in his other (and better) Marvel monthly. For the first team-up, Marvel was lucky enough to get Walter Simonson, probably the artist most associated with the character after creator Jack Kirby, to draw it, and a quirk of the plotting even allows Simonson to draw a Thor with the costume he used to draw him in, rather than the newer, closer-to-the-film-version costume he wears.

See, Bruce Banner's team of super-scientists invent a portal to the dimension of the Frost Giants in order to search for exotic metals that could potentially be mined, but it's also something of a time machine, so when they end up in Eiderdurm, not only do they find themselves facing angry, giant ogres made of sentient ice, they also find a Thor who has not yet met Bruce Banner or The Hulk (though Banner is familiar with Thor). It allows for a more classic Marvel style team-up, as the characters are more-or-less meeting for the first time (The Hulk's relationship with Thor isn't exactly too terribly nuanced, you know?).

Chris Eliopoulos gets the only lettering credit in the collection, so I'm assuming John Workman did not letter the Thor story, but I think it worth noting that some panels of Simonson art without Workman art look wrong, and some look as if Workman had indeed lettered them, so I wonder if Eliopoulos perhaps was imitating Workman through some of the story, or if Simonson himself had not drawn his own KAKAROOMs and SKRAKOOMs into the panels himself.

The Daredevil team-up features nice covers by Paolo Rivera and nice artwork by Matteo Scalera. It too is a pretty straightforward team-up, although not quite as straightforward as the Thor storyline. The plot is pretty simple: SHIELD is using The Hulk as a battering ram in a raid to secure some super-science weapons on a ship outside New York City, and Daredevil shows up to help. When one of the weapons goes missing, the pair go looking for it, and find it about to be sold to Baron Zemo, who has a whole arsenal of super-weapons, including a few of the Hulk-hurting variety.

Beyond the action, the story is devoted to explaining Bruce Banner's usage of Matt Murdock as his lawyer, a layer of insurance against SHIELD ever screwing him, as Murdock also has whatever dirt on them that Banner has.

It actually reads more like an issue of Daredevil than one of Hulk, perhaps because Waid has been writing the former longer than the latter (and I'm more used to his DD than his Hulk), and perhaps because his Hulk run hasn't had a consistent artistic partner or visual style the way his Daredevil has.

It lacks a scene as awesome as his Hulk picks up Mjolnir—or does he?! scene from the first arc, but I enjoyed the one where Ol' Hornhead walks into a bar full of tough guys, and, instead of having to beat the hell out of them until he's able to intimidate them into providing information, The Hulk does the heavy-lifting by simply being there:
The collection includes 22 whole pages of not-terribly-interesting process material, which seems to be the Marvel collection-putter-together's solution to not having to put six issues' worth of comics in collections, but having them end up being about the same size as they would have been if they did.

Thursday, January 23, 2014


I have a review of Michael DeForge's Ant Colony, the best book of 2014 (so far!) in this week's Las Vegas Weekly. I haven't really talked about it here at all, but I did post a few images on my tumblr [sic] blog. It's difficult to describe, but man, once you get into DeForge's tiny little ant world, that book is just incredible. Anyway, read my review if you like.

And over at Robot 6, I have a piece about the conclusion of Fraction, Allred, Allred and Allred's FF book. You can also read that if you like.

And, if you're going to Robot 6 anyway, and f you like EDILW (and your reading this sentence makes me think you probably do), then I imagine you'll also enjoy Tom Bondurant's monthly look at DC's solicitations, which is always much more focused and, ironically, less grumpy than mine. He points out that DC will need to launch 11 new titles in May if they wanna hit 52 ongoings.

I imagine some form of Nightwing (maybe a new book starring Dick Grayson under a new codename; Bondurant suggested Azrael, and I'm wondering whether it would be insane or not for Grayson to resume the currently open Robin role), Suicide Squad (Secret Six? Checkmate? Both?)  and Teen Titans will be among the launches, as all three seem cancelled for reasons other than low sales. So that's three-to-four titles right there.

And if Aquaman can have a team title of his own, than there's no reason that characters like The Flash (The Flash and The Rogues...?) or Wonder Woman or Green Arrow can't (Bondurant suggested a Green Arrow and The Outsiders...although, Green Arrow and The Outlaws sounds better; too bad Red Hood took that team name).

I'm guessing May will bring Plastic Man (spinning out of Forever Evil), Doom Patrol (ditto), maybe but probably not Blue Beetle (ditto again), Club of Heroes or Batman Inc, Red, I need three more...Jeez, this is getting kind of's gotta be difficult to be the person green-lighting New 52 books, trying to find an IP they haven't already tried and has a chance of not being cancelled in 8-16 issues...let's say...Shazam, Mister Miracle (or something New Gods-y) Authority...?

Meet back here next month, and see how poorly I guessed!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Comic shop comics: January 22

Batman '66 #7 (DC Comics): Me, I woulda went with "ABE-BA-BAM!" but that is the only bit of constructive criticism I have to offer Jeff Parker, who writes another fun, funny Batman adventure for the lead story of this issue, drawn by Christopher Jones. The villain of the piece if False Face—so that's not really Abraham Lincoln Batman is punching in the face, in case you were worried that the Caped Crusader had turned anti-American—and seeing him here was a reminder that there are actually a rather awful lot of Bat-villains that never made the jump to the DCU comics (like King Tut did in 2009). That's remarkable because of how desperate the Batman comics seem for fresh villains, as you can see from the over-exploitation of any new characters of any degree of promise (Mr. Zsasz, Professor Pyg, etc). False Face, more than, say, Bookworm or Egghead, seems an easy import.

The Tom Peyer-written, Derec Donovan-drawn back-up is a bit sharper and more focused, due in large part to its shorter length. The Joker is the villain, and the source of his downfall is rather interesting. Seeking to maximize profits, he downsizes his gang, and while it looks efficient enough on paper, you can only demand so much work from so few employees while remaining an effective operation, no matter what your business. Relevant!

I also learned a new word from Peyer's story: Flagitious, characterized by brutal, cruel or vicious crimes, as in "Protecting Gotham from miscreants is our business, you flagitious funster!"

FF #16 (Marvel Entertainment): There's Uatu The Watcher and his pregnant wife at a family cookout with the Future Foundation on the moon. What's next for him? I believe Marvel is going to have him murdered in service of their next big event story.

Well, this is the final issue of Fraction, Allred, Allred and Allred's run on Marvel's most fun title, and I have mixed feelings. I will be somewhat sorry to see it go, in that I so enjoy getting a new, quality Mike Allred title in comic book form on a regular basis (and the price tag of his upcoming Silver Surfer will keep me from following that in the serially-published format), but I can't say I was at all disappointed with it, given how great the ending of the book was. It was seriously...serious, really, but ends with a more fun, more light epilogue of some length, and the whole 16-issue run was a great, novel-length comic book adventure.

It sounds as if Scott "Ant-Man" Lang will be retiring from the Marvel Universe for a bit, and I know She-Hulk's getting her own book and Medusa and her gang have their own event stuff coming up, so part of the book's conclusion seems mandated by the band breaking up, but that's not at all evident in the book.

I'm curious to see what happens with the FF kids, as there's a new Fantastic Four title coming up, but not a new FF title. I do hope that whenever an Ant-Man reappears in the Marvel Universe, he has that sweet-looking Ant-Man helmet Allred designed.

I'll have a couple hundred more words to say about this book elsewhere tomorrow, but, in the meantime, let me say thanks to the creators, and encourage any of you who sat it out to try it in trade (They collected it rather wonkily though, so proceed with caution; I think there's a split trade collecting the first arc of both Fantastic Four and FF, and individual trades for each, too).

Oh, and I'd feel remiss in my complaining-about-prices duties if I failed to mention that while Marvel calls the ten-page epilogue a "bonus," they do charge an extra buck for this issue, so they're not really a bonus at all.

Harley Quinn #2 (DC): Did you guys read Sims' essay on the Harley Quinn character at Comics Alliance last month, which I somehow didn't notice until this week? It is a good essay. I didn't really care for the first issue of this series, but I thought I'd give it another chance and...well, I didn't care for this one either.

It's a weird book in that it's kinda sorta divorced from the DCU continuity, not only in tone but also in content—I still don't understand how Harley Quinn is just, like, a normal civilian and not a wanted criminal, for example—but still uses the New 52 character designs and is sticking with the portrayal of Harley as a cute, sexy, lovable killer. In this issue, Poison Ivy visits, and Chad Hardin draws them scantily clad and sharing a bed, but man, Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti's script doesn't just leave it at that.

The sub-plots involving a contract out on Harley and her new job as a landlady are moved incrementally forward, while the main conflict of the issue is another instance of Harley as an animal lover, here rescuing a pet-shop full of cute animals which she then feeds a would-be assassin to. Like her, the animals are apparently cute on the outside, vicious killers on the inside.

Pretty cool cover, though.

Hawkeye #16 (Marvel): This is a Kate Bishop, Girl Detective issue, drawn by Annie Wu (One of these days, they'll hire Richard Sala to draw a Kate Bishop issue, and I will be deleriously happy about it. Richard Sala is my favorite Girl Detective artist, closely followed by Colleen Coover). In it, Bishop tries to help an old, doddering, eccentric musician from the 1960s get his music back from the Internet or something. It's mostly just Bishop saying clever dialogue, a few tidbits of which aren't age-appropriate (The line about Metallica's drummer was funny, but jeez, how old was Kate when that was an issue? 5? Maybe 7?).

This book, and the Kate issues especially, have the feel of a sort of hang-out comic, where it doesn't really  matter what happens, exactly, as it's so fun to hang out with the character and the creators.

Not sure about that "editor/edit-her" credit on the credits page...

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

DC's April previews reviewed

Well, this month I count 46 ongoing "New 52" titles, although if you factor in the four issues of the year-long weekly Batman Eternal, that brings us up to 50, and there's a one-shot Forever Evil: Arkham War follow-up that brings us to 51. And enough annuals to put us over the 52-title mark, but, one-shots and annuals really shouldn't count.

Oh, and of those 46 a few—StormWatch, Teen Titans, Suicide Squad, Superman Unchained, JLoA—are publishing their last issues. So DC needs about 10 new monthlies if they're going to stick with 52 ongoing, monthly series. Which they apparently aren't. (I honestly expected to see a Plastic Man and Doom Patrol solicited this month, spinning out of Forever Evil).

Also of note is that a bunch of books have stayed at the $3.99 price point despite losing their back-up features, so the line is no longer being held at $2.99.

Additionally, there are some rather surprising new titles being launched this month, including one more test of whether Green Lantern fans are willing to buy as many comics as, say, Batman or X-Men fans every month.

Speaking of surprising launches...

Written by DAN JURGENS
On sale APRIL 2 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T.
A “FUTURES END” prelude! Spinning out of AQUAMAN, the King of Atlantis and his teammates find themselves targeted by an unknown foe that wants their Atlantean artifacts! Don’t miss the start of this all-new series!

Hoo boy.

Okay, yes, on the one hand, the very idea of a second ongoing Aquaman title is patently ridiculous, given the character's historical difficulty in keeping a single monthly title afloat (Ha ha! Water jokes!). Even given Aquaman's current success, producing a second title just seems silly, like DC is daring readers to stop reading Aquaman. Additionally, the success of Aquaman had a lot to do with Geoff Johns writing it, and he's only been not writing it for, let's see here, one issue so far, so launching a second title under the assumption that new Aquaman writer Jeff Parker will sell close to as well as Johns did seems...what's a kind word for it...optimistic.

The creative team doesn't inspire a ton of faith, either, as all of the books Dan Jurgens has been involved with since the New 52 have either been canceled (Justice League International, Firestorm), or among the more chaotic in terms of creative teams (Green Arrow, Superman). This sort of looks like a way to give Jurgens something to do as much as anything else.

On the other hand, DC managed to take the unexpected success of Johns on Green Lantern almost ten years ago and build a franchise of five Lantern books atop it, so maybe it's not completely crazy pants to try and do the same with Aquaman (although they did build the Lantern franchise up quite slowly comapared to this; if I recall correctly, there was a Johns-written or co-written Green Lantern Corps miniseries before they launched the GLC ongoing).

And given how quickly many of DC's attempts to revive more off-beat concepts and titles have crashed and burned (Vibe, Amethyst in Sword of Sorcery, The Green Team, etc), maybe they're just trying to play it safe, and the thinking is that if X number of people buy Aquaman every month, we can assume at least Y number will buy a second Aquaman comic, and that Y will be > the number of people buying The Demon or Stanley and His Monster or Vixen or Gen 13 or...

Written by PETER J. TOMASI
Art and cover by PATRICK GLEASON and MICK GRAY
On sale APRIL 16 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
The quest for Damian’s remains takes Batman to Paradise Island and into direct conflict with Wonder Woman!

I'm really looking forward to seeing Gleason get to draw some Justice Leaguers again, but they really need to pull the plug on this Batman and... business and just re-title this book Batman: The Brave and The Bold if they're not going to resurrect Damian or give Tim Drake his old job back at the end of this arc.

Here's something I never expected to type: Batman looks a lot like Ursula from The Little Mermaid on this cover, doesn't he?

Written by ANN NOCENTI
On sale APRIL 23 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T+
“The Race of Outlaws” begins! Despite her best efforts, Selina Kyle just can’t stop being Catwoman. What’s dragged her back into the catsuit? A globe-trotting contest that will have her competing to earn the prize for being the best thief in the world. But watch out, Catwoman – there’s no honor among thieves!

I like the premise. Wish I knew the other thieves though. I think that's New 52 Mirror Master, and I'm guessing that's Golden Glider

Art and cover by FRANCIS MANAPUL
On sale APRIL 2 • 32 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED T
A bold new direction for DETECTIVE COMICS as THE FLASH creative team of Francis Manapul and Brian Buccelato take over the creative reins! Batman finds himself knee-deep in a new mystery involving a deadly new narcotic that has hit the streets of Gotham City.

I'm really interested to see what that particular creative team, a pencil artist and color artist writing and providing the art, will do with Batman. But damn, "a deadly new narcotic" hitting the streets of Gotham is one storyline I've read about eight times too many at this point in my life.

On sale APRIL 30 • 48 pg, FC, $4.99 US • RATED T
The start of a major new arc for the Fastest Man Alive! In the future, The Flash is a broken man. His powers have failed him time and again at great cost to him and the city he has sworn to protect. Now he’s coming back to 2014 to stop the one event that destroyed his life. Meanwhile, in the present, Barry Allen must contend with thieves trying to capitalize on the devastation of FOREVER EVIL. It’s a tale of two timelines that ushers in one of DC’s most storied characters…featuring The New 52 debut of WALLY WEST!

Weird. Going off of what little info is right there in the solicitaiton, it sounds like Wally West might be the Flash of the far-flung future. And that he will wear a terrible, terrible costume (and Barry's New 52 costume is already pretty terrible).

I think Tom Bondurant talked a bit about this last week, but the thing about bringing Wally West back is that just having another Flash with the name Wally West isn't the same as having the real Wally West around. It's not the name people like, it's the character, and West was one of many DCU characters that is fairly difficult to divorce from his history, as he became that character over the course of that history, rather than being born fully-formed with certain ticks and characteristics the way that, say, Batman or Superman were.  (I wonder Spoiler fans will likewise receive the New 52 intro of Spoiler; I know that, personally, I'm a fan of characters like Tim Drake, Barbara Gordon, Martian Manhunter and Captain Marvel, but have had zero interest in reading New 52 comics starring them because of them, because they're just the same names, not the same characters).

On sale MAY 7 • 72 pg, FC, $19.99 US
In May 2014, audiences will witness the epic rebirth of the King of Monsters as Legendary and Warner Bros. bring Godzilla to the big screen. To pave the way for the iconic creature’s return, Legendary Comics is proud to present the official Godzilla graphic novel!
Delve into an incredible mystery, generations in the making. At the dawn of the atomic age, humanity awakens lifeforms beyond imagination, unleashing monumental forces of nature. This explosive, larger-than-life adventure is the perfect way for fans to experience the new Godzilla before seeing it in theaters.

Godzilla...? What are you doing over here? Shouldn't you be in IDW's solicitations? (Incidentally, I've been reading as many as IDW's Godzilla trades as I can find in libraries, and will have some posts on the subject soon, including a gigantic one on James Stokoe's ridiculously good Half-Century War. The ones I've read so far have been penciled by Stokoe, Simon Gane and Phil Hester, all of whom get me a lot more excited about reading giant monster comics than the names Eric Battle and Yvel Guitchet do).

Written by GEOFF JOHNS
Art and cover by IVAN REIS and JOE PRADO
On sale APRIL 23 • 32 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED T
It all changes here with the first chapter of “INJUSTICE LEAGUE”! The next era of the Justice League begins as heroes quit, villains join and a Justice League roster you’ve never seen before emerges, led by the world’s greatest hero — LEX LUTHOR?! As the dust settles and the bodies are buried, the violent consequences of FOREVER EVIL must be dealt with — while a mysterious new force sets its target on the League. But is this force friend or enemy? And why does he want Luthor dead? (If you ask Batman, it’s a long list.)

This is only really interesting in that it's rather unexpected, moreso that Captain Cold is one of the holdovers from the not-so-bad team of bad-guys Luthor is putting together to fight the Crime Syndicate in Forever Evil (Luthor and Black Adam have both been played as anti-heroes in the past; the latter by Johns for a really rather long time).

On the other hand, that Luthor could be Earth-3's Lex Luthor (Remember the captive in the hood the Crime Syndicate brought with them from their world?), which would explain why he's on the Justice League, and why some heroes might not like it, whether he's a "good" Luthor or not. (I do hope that the hostage isn't Earth-3's Luthor, though, as that was my first thought was seeing him, and Luthor is the traditional good villain from Earth-3. I'm hoping it's someone more surprising, like, I don't know, The Joker).

I'm glad to see Captain Marvel Shazam apparently finally officially joining the New 52 Justice League, but I hope he's not just there as some sort of temporary, substitute Superman. I've never seen the two characters as so similar they can't be on the League at the same time. Certainly if Superman can serve on the League at the same time as Martian Manhunter or Wonder Woman, his powers don't overlap so much that he can't be on the same team as Captain Marvel.

Written by JEFF LEMIRE
Art and cover by MIKE McKONE
On sale APRIL 23 • 32 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED T
Top comics writer Jeff Lemire teams with superstar artist Mike McKone for the all-new monthly series JUSTICE LEAGUE UNITED, starring the new team of powerful heroes Earth calls Justice League Canada!

In the aftermath of FOREVER EVIL, Adam Strange is caught up in an adventure across the far reaches of the cosmos that will unite an unexpected team of heroes including Supergirl, Hawkman, Green Arrow, Stargirl, Martian Manhunter and Animal Man – but if they’re on the team, who exactly is Canadian? Plus: Don’t miss the debut of a new Canadian hero who will have a huge effect on the group!

Well, I guess in retrospect it should have been obvious that they weren't actually going to call a book Justice League of Candada, but boy, Justice League United sounds as clunky as any of their other titles of late (Superman Unchained, Batman Eternal).

Still, it seems a shame to be scrapping Justice League of America so soon (14 issues) to make way for this, particularly given the huge promotional push (remember the 50+ variant covers?) and the promise of a new ongoing series by Geoff Johns and David Finch, of which the latter lasted only three issues, and the former about twice as many (And, perhaps even more frustrating for those who don't care for Finch's work anyway, JLoA was really only around for one story so far: The lead-up to "Trinity War," the "Trinity War" crossover that was itself a lead-up to Forever Evil and the Forever Evil tie-in).

The make-up of the team, as revealed on that cover so far, doesn't exactly thrill me and, in fact, Star Girl and Supergirl on the same team seems somewhat redundant, but I do find it amusing how blonde this team is: Everyone but bald J'onn and dark-haired Hawkman (I think; I haven't seen New 52 Hawkman without his helmet on yet) is fair-haired.

I think long-time League ally Adam Strange is a perfect candidate for Justice League membership—I've always thought if they were going to stick with the random zeta beams taking him to and away from Rann aspect of his origin, being on the Justice League as a superhero would give him something to do while he waits to return to Rann. And, in a welcome surprise, his costume doesn't look horrible. Huzzah!

Written by GAIL SIMONE
On sale APRIL 2 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T+
Virtue’s mysterious past is revealed! Plus, The Movement travels outside of Coral City for the first time to rescue their teammate Burden from his demonic brother!

Still not canceled!

The cover of Nightwing #30 just doesn't have enough blood on it.

On sale APRIL 23 • 48 pg, FC, $4.99 US • RATED T
At last, the SECRET ORIGINS of the World’s Greatest Heroes in The New 52 can be revealed! This new series gets off to an awesome start with the origins of The Last Son of Krypton and Kara Zor-El, Supergirl, plus the first Robin, Dick Grayson.

Now this is interesting. The New 52 is only about two-and-a-half-years-old, although the weird semi-reboot nature of the continuity rejiggering means the DC Universe mega-story is actually about five-to-seven fictional years old at this point...they just haven't told us what happened during most of that time (and don't seem to know themselves).

A lot of characters origins we've already seen unfolding in flashbacks or stories set in the past—Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Superman in their titles, the Justice League in Justice League #1-6, Batman in "Year Zero," Martian Manhunter in the JLoA back-ups—and some of the other characters more recently introduced to the fictional time-line have had their origins unfold "live" (Captain Marvel, Vibe, Simon Baz, the heroes of Earth 2, etc). And then there was Zero Month and, to a lesser extent, Villains Month, the former of which told origins of most of the new DCU's heroes, the latter of which told the origins of some of the DCU's villains.

For example, of the three characters mentioned in this month's solicitation, I feel like I've already seen the origins of two-thirds of them in The New 52 (not that they can't be retold or expanded on, of course).

What this DCU needs more than a Secret Origins title is a "Lost Years" one, filling in the blanks of what happened between the origins and the stories of September 2011.

Written by E. NELSON BRIDWELL and others
Cover by ALEX TOTH
On sale MAY 21 • 448 pg, B&W, $19.99 US
Don’t miss these tales based on the hit animated TV series “Super Friends,” from issues #1-34! Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Green Arrow and other heroes battle The Riddler, the Time Trapper and others in these all-ages stories.

Huzza—aw, what am I so excited about? I still have a pile two-and-a-half-feet high of Showcase volumes to read. Not that I can stop myself from buying new ones, though.

Written by CULLEN BUNN
Art and cover by DALE EAGLESHAM
1:25 Variant cover by DOUG MAHNKE
On sale APRIL 16 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
Retailers: This issue will ship with two covers. Please see the order form for more information.
Thaal Sinestro has lost everything he’s ever loved: his home, his family, his only friend. But no matter how desperate he becomes, Sinestro will never be without fear...a lesson his one-time ally, one-time enemy Lyssa Drak is eager to teach him! Can he take back the despicable Yellow Lantern Corps? Or does the universe have a new destiny in mind for Sinestro?

Oh, I'm sorry, did I say DC had managed to build Johns' GL run into a line of five books? I meant six.

Art and cover by TOM MANDRAKE
On sale MAY 14 • 320 pg, FC, $19.99 US
In these tales from THE SPECTRE #1-12, detective Jim Corrigan tries to end his mission as The Spectre. But the grisly crimes of a serial killer pull him back into the battle for justice – and send him on a trip to hell! Plus, Madame Xanadu tries to help Corrigan – but her help may lead one of them to suicide.

This, if you've never read it, is an excellent series, mixing the mood, subject matter and quality of the Vertigo imprint of the time with some DC Universe characters. That's a pretty good price-point too, though you can probably find all of these comics in back-issue bins if you're diligent (I ended up reading the whole run out of order that way).

That cover originally glowed in the dark, but something tells me they won't retain that feature for the trade collection.

Written by SEAN RYAN
On sale APRIL 9 • 40 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED T+ •
In the ashes of FOREVER EVIL, A.R.G.U.S. and Task Force X leader Amanda Waller must face the consequences of her failure to protect the United States from the Crime Syndicate

I'm a little surprised to see Suicide Squad getting the axe. From what I've seen so far, it's been pretty consistently terrible since its launch, and burned through creative teams as quickly as any of the other failed New 52 relaunches, but I didn't think its dropping sales had dropped that low yet, and it if DC could only find an interested, interesting creative team to stick around an arc or two, it doesn't seem like it would be that hard of a book to get on track and moving in the right direction.

If it was only going to last 30 issues though, it probably wasn't worth so drastically rebooting the looks of Amanda Waller, Harley Quinn, Deadshot and King Shark (Man, his New 52, half-assed species change still bothers me).

Art and wraparound cover by JIM LEE and SCOTT WILLIAMS
Backup story art by DUSTIN NGUYEN
On sale APRIL 30 • 32 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED T
Combo pack edition: $4.99 US •
This is it – the extraordinary finale of Scott Snyder and Jim Lee’s Superman saga, surrounded by an epic wraparound cover! It’s a battle in the sun as Superman and Wraith accept their destinies…and Lex Luthor pulls the trigger on his ultimate weapon!

Final...issue...? I coulda sworn that this was meant to be an ongoing but, well, that was fast.

Well, maybe now Jim Lee can get back to drawing the comic book he was born to draw, All-Star Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder.

On sale APRIL 23 • 40 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED T •
Retailers: This issue will ship with two covers. Please see the order form for more information.
In the wake of FOREVER EVIL, The Titans return to learn that Harvest has grown more powerful in their absence! And with the body of Jon Lane Kent gone from its chamber, Harvest is marshaling all the resources of N.O.W.H.E.R.E. to get it back! All this and the return of Bunker and Beast Boy!

Like Suicide Squad, I'm surprised to see this book ending, and don't think it can be down to the usual reason of poor sales. I'm hoping it's because someone of some authority at DC finally noticed that it was 2014 they had Scott fucking Lobdell writing a book called "Teen Titans" featuring horrible redesigns and reboots a few popular DC characters and some equally gross-looking new characters and thought, "Hey, this is the dumbest idea ever. Maybe we should do something closer to that popular, fan-favorite cartoon show about young heroes we had on TV for a while, Young Justice, or even the one before that, what was it called? Oh yeah—Teen Titans."

Honestly, the premise of this Teen Titans doesn't really work in the universe of The New 52, where the four generations of DC superheroes have all been squished into a single handful of years (Nor does the premise of the original Teen Titans book, given that Batman is the only hero in The New 52 to have ever had a teenaged sidekick).

I'm assuming they'll replace this with a new version of Teen Titans in the future, but, honestly, I can't imagine what it will be. They have enough "name" teenage characters laying around The New 52—Static, Blue Beetle, Supergirl, Star Girl, Steel's niece Natasha Irons, Raven Red, Black Alice, Amethyst, a time-lost Shining Knight, the kids from The Movement or The Green Team or The Super Young Team, Batgirl, any of those dumb-looking characters from The Ravagers—that they could easily come up with newer, more recognizable rosters if they really wanted to, but I hope they just let the Teen Titans rest and detoxify for a while. Maybe relaunch it when they semi-de-reboot, and it makes sense to have a team of teenage heroes built around characters like Robin III and his contemporaries.

I love Guillem March, but I hate his cover for this month's Trinity of Sin: Phantom Stranger. It's the different positions of Superman and Light's heads.

Monday, January 20, 2014

DC Universe Vs. Masters of The Universe #4: Needs more Snout Spout

See that? That's just a single image from this fantastic gallery of painted Masters of The Universe-related artwork at Monster Brains, which more than one of my Facebook friends linked to last week. That gallery pretty accurately sums up what the inside of my head looked like at least an hour every day between the ages of, oh, 5 and 8. But even if you don't click on the link to see all the pictures, just take in the one above. Look at all of those colorful characters, almost each of which had its own unique power or gimmick. Look at those crazy vehicles, all based on monsters or animals. Look at those playsets. And in that image above, among those dozens of characters, there are at least three distinct and warring factions of bad guys—Skeletor and his Evil Warriors, Hordak and The Horde, The Snake Men—with whom the Masters of the Universe must contend.

There's just so much there to work with.

Guess how much of that has made it into DC Universe Vs. Masters of The Universe?

Four issues in, the only characters from the Masters of the Universe universe to appear have been the drastically redesigned, "New 52" versions of He-Man, Teela, Man-at-Arms, Roboto, Moss Man, Stratos, Battle Cat, Evil-Lyn, Skeletor and Orko. Orko is, it turns out, the ultimate villain of the piece, with Keith Giffen having turned the annoying/funny magical sidekick from the cartoon series into an all-powerful, unstoppable magical force—a little like what Alan Moore did with Mr. Mxyzptlk in "Whatever Happened to Man of Tomorrow?" and a little like what Sean McKeever did with Wonder Dog during his rather unfortunate run on Teen Titans.

As for the DC Universe, it has thus far been represented by the rosters of the three Justice Leagues, plus minor villain/anti-heroine Black Alice. And that's it, really.

In terms of scope and sweep, it's a pretty narrow, limited to some cherry-picking of characters, and the plot doesn't draw anything of any particular interest to either shared universe setting: Working at Dark Orko's behest, New 52 Skeletor travels to Earth-New 52 in order to drain it of all magic, a process that will destroy the planet. To keep the heroes off his back, he manipulates He-Man into seemingly killing Superman, so the Justice Leagues are hunting for and fighting the Masters of the Universe rather than looking for Skeletor.

And that's it, so far. It's been a very weird crossover so far, with no real indication that this is meant to be a once-in-a-lifetime meeting between two huge franchises full of scores of characters that intersect, compare and contrast in interesting ways. It reads more like your average JLA/JSA crossover from back in the day, when those things happened annually or so; just two teams of super-people sharing a brief adventure to fill comic book pages and if the results are nothing special, well, so what? There's always next time.

JLA/Avengers it ain't, in other words. Hell, JLA/Titans or Avengers Vs. X-Men it ain't. I'd say it's more like New Avengers/Transformers, but I never finished reading that miniseries; and I suppose it's always possible it got better after the first few terrible issues.

To recap, in the first three issues: He-Man's mom came to DC's Earth, where she is apparently from, seeking help to stop Skeletor, who is working with Black Alice for Orko. She finds John Constantine, who, oddly enough, seems to be the main character in this story, getting more panel-time than just about anyone else. They're soon joined by He-Man, Teela and Evil-Lyn.

Skeletor possesses all of the Justice Leaguers save Batman, who is too cool to be possessed, and has them attack He-Man and friends; during the melee, He-Man seemingly impales Superman, who vanishes upon being stabbed. This makes all of the Leaguers mad, and they go hunting the Eternians. And then another group from Eternia, including Man-at-Arms and the others, arrive on Earth, searching for the first group. They run into the Justice League of America.

Things seems to be under control with the creative team at last, at least, with Tony Beard still scripting from Keith Giffen's plot, but Pop Mhan back to handling all of the artwork himself again, after some rather substantial assistance last month.

Look, see? There's John Constantine again. Dude's like the face of the DC Universe in this thing. He's appearing alongside He-Man, Teela and, in the center, Zatanna, who does not appear in this issue, and has not appeared in any issue of the series so far.


Evil-Lyn, Teela, He-Man and He-Man's mom are at Stonehenge, recapping the plot, where they've found one of the magical siphon thingees Skeletor is using to drain Earth-New 52 of its magical essence. Evil-Lyn tells them they can use it to find Skeletor. A determined He-Man tells her to "hurry," because "if we don't stop my uncle, who will?"

That sets up the next two pages, full of people who would like to stop his uncle, Skeletor.

PAGES 4-6:
A terrible scan, as the book is bigger than my scanner. Please note Mhan's Roboto and the J'onn/Battle Cat fight, though.
It's (some of) the Master of the Universe vs. (some of) the Justice League of America! Stratos vs. Hawkman! Man-at-Arms vs. Green Arrow! Green Lantern Simon Baz versus the most poorly drawn version of Roboto you can imagine! And, most amusingly, Martian Manhunter vs. Battle Cat!

That last match-up shouldn't be much of a fight at all, given that Martian Manhunter's powers include super-strength, invulnerability, invisibility, intangibility, shape-shifting, telepathic powers and devastating eye-beam weapons referred to as "Martian Vision."

Battle Cat, on the other hand, is a large, green tiger.

J'onn's strategy for fighting Battle Cat, however, is to turn into a cat-man and try to tackle Battle Cat, who grabs him, throws him down, and then slaps him across his stupid Martian face. Congratulations, Martian Manahunter! You've just reached the nadir of your career!

While the battle rages across five whole panels, Colonel Steve Trevor, hiding behind a car, uses his cell phone to call Wonder Woman's bracelet and ask her if these are her hostiles. She says she'll be there to help capture and interrogate them with her magic rope.
This final page looks so much like it was drawn by Howard Porter, I had to re-check the credits to make sure that it was indeed Pop Mhan who was drawing every page of art in this issue.

PAGES 7-8:

In conversation with Alfred, a brown-haired Bruce Wayne realizes that Superman isn't really dead, because it's just a little too convenient that his body completely disintegrated after being stabbed to death. Also, there's no way DC would kill Superman off, even temporarily, in a stupid little miniseries like this that no one's reading.

PAGES 9-10:
Dark Orko tells Skeletor and Black Alice his plan, which involves converting all life into his Horde or whatever, and they realize that serving Orko may not actually be in their best interests.

PAGES 11-13:

We rejoin the MOTU vs. JLOA battle already in progress. The Savage Hawkman tries stabbing Stratos, who is mainly just avoiding him, and then he KRAKs him with his big, golden, spike-covered mace.

Martian Manhunter has completed his transformation into a large, green, cat creature and is trying to reason with Battle Cat, who slaps the shit out of him again.
Green Lantern, having apparently defeated Roboto off-panel, now goes after Moss Man, who uses his plant-controlling powers to smack him around with some trees. GL responds by creating a large green chainsaw which he is about to chop Moss Man's arm off with (!!!) when suddenly...

PAGES 14-16:
Swamp Thing snatches the chainsaw out of the air, grabbing its whirling blade in his hand (SHLP SHRP SKLUSHHH is the sound a chainsaw blade makes in the palm of the hand of a muck-encrusted mockery of a man, if you're wondering), and slowly tells GL to stop this madness and that his " in very poor taste."

Justice League Dark, having been recruited by Constantine last issue, has come to break up the fight—by beating on Justice League of America. Frankenstein blocks Hawkman's mace, which he was about to use to crush the skull of poor, helpless Stratos (JLoA is pretty fucking hardcore, if this is their idea of taking the Eternians alive). Deadman possesses Green Arrow, uses a flame arrow to chase Martian Manhunter away from Battle Cat (and, incidentally, make J'onn say "SQUEEEE--!", but not in the Internet's general usage of that word), and Black Orchid runs up and punches out Steve Trevor.

The Masters are the JLD are then teleported away by magic.

PAGE 17-20:

Madame Xanadu cast the spell to rescue the two teams from Trevor's Leaguers. Together with John Constantine and Batman, they plan on stopping Skeletor and figuring out where Superman is being kept so they can rescue him.

While Batman narrates an inspirational speech, the artwork jumps around to show us who is where: He-Man and his team are just outside Skeletor's headquarters in the House of Secrets. Skeletor and Black Alice are still talking to Orko. And Superman? He's trapped in the flaming portal in the torso of Dark Orko, the portal that used to be the big, black O on his little purple cloak, back when he was the wacky sidekick and court jester in Eternia.

Next? "The Story of Dark Orko," according to the last-page blurb. I can't wait.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Review: Wolverine and The X-Men Vol. 1

Jason Aaron followed a long, healthy, mostly high-quality run on Marvel's Wolverine character on various monthlies and miniseries with this new book, launched in 2011 and spinning out of the events of the Aaron-written X-Men: Schism storyline, in which Scott Summers' long, gradual leaning toward increasingly radical tactics finally split the X-Men into two more-or-less antagonistic sides: That of Cyclops and that of Wolverine.

Aaron's X-Men team for this book consisted of Wolverine, Kitty Pryde, Beast, Iceman, Rachel Grey, Husk and, um, Doop, but the title featured two pretty drastic deviations from the bulk of the other X-books.

First, the heroes weren't running around having superhero adventures (that happened in the many other X-Men books, many of which featured these very same characters), but were instead running a school for teenage mutants. At Charles Xavier's urging, Wolverine opened the Jean Grey School For Higher Learning, built on the ruins of the original Charles Xavier School For Gifted Youngsters, where the X-Men character who seems the least suited to acting as a role model or teaching and shaping young minds is now the headmaster.

And, secondly, it was something of a sitcom based around that premise. It was a comic comic book, a comedy with some superheroic elements around the edges, rather than a straight superhero action/adventure fight comic with some comedic elements.

The first three-issue arc, which makes up three of the four issues in this first collection of the series, features the first day of the school's opening, in which Kitty and Wolvie are worriedly awaiting the arrival of a pair of inspectors from the New York State Department of Education, to greenlight the new school. Beast has designed and built the new campus into a high-tech, sci-fi facility—Aaron writes Beast as a sort of manic, mad scientist; Reed Richards on seven espressos. These inspectors function as the point-of-view characters, introducing readers to the grounds, the teachers and the students.

This is the point at which the major antagonists of this early portion of Aaron's run decide to attack, the previously-introduced, tween version of The Hellfire Club (even the villains in Aaron's Wolverine and the X-men are "funny" villains; super-rich, amoral pre-teen versions of your typical Marvel evil corporate raider type, including a descendent of the public domain Victor Frankenstein, who arrive on a hill over-looking the campus in their flying limousine).

They attack with a variety of mad-science weapons, including a mutant descendent of Krakoa (the sentient island that figured heavily in the somewhat controversial, retconned action of X-Men: Deadly Genesis), an army of Frankenstein's monsters with flame-throwers and by transforming the school inspectors into monsters (a wendigo and a sauron, to be specific).

Naturally, the good guys win, but they do so mainly via the assistance of Quentin "Kid Omega" Quire, the bratty punk rock mutant student from Grant Morrison's millennial New X-Men run (particularly the "Riot at Xavier's" storyline), a run that heavily informs Aaron's set-up for the series. Quire manages to turn Krakoa—who is itself a sort of mutant—to their side by acknowledging his/its feelings and giving he/it a sense of inclusion.

While the student body includes some pre-existing, carry over characters—Blindfold, Glob, Armor, etc—the students Aaron focuses most of his attention on are new ones who share something in common with Kid Omega: Bad guys learning to be good, which gives the school something of a reformatory feel.

Not only has Wolverine talked Captain America into remanding Kid Omega into his custody, other students include a mutant brood named Broo, a brash Shi'ar prince called Kid Gladiator and, before this volume's over, Krakoa and Genesis, a clone of Apocalypse taken from an X-Force adventure (He joins in issue four, along with an amnesiac and strangely powered Angel, currently having long blond hair, not-blue skin and metal wings, a state he was put in during an X-Force storyline).

Visually, this first volume isn't as strong as it could or should be, given the contributors. Chris Bachalo is billed as the primary artist, and while his highly-stylized designs and line-work, and his smooth and round figures make hims pretty ideally suited for young characters and comic book comedy, it's maybe not the best introduction to a brand-new, rather chaotic setting (parts of the school are made out of ice, parts made of brick and mortar, parts of floating metal, the "Danger Room" is now everywhere, including the restrooms, for sneak attacks, etc).

The action component of the storyline is so chaotic—essentially, the school's grounds come to life and try to devour all of its inhabitants, from every direction—and among the X-Men's responses are for Iceman to create a small army of Icemen, each of which looks different, that Bachalo and company cross the line between energetically confused and urgent into just plain confusing. It probably doesn't help that it is Bachalo and company, and not just Bachalo: Duncan Rouleau and Matteo Scalera help pencil issue #3, and there are seven inkers on the first three issues, including Rouleau and Scalera.

The book really starts to find its groove in the fourth issue, with the introduction of mostly-regular artist Nick Bradshaw, whose style is smooth, clean, stately and ordered, compared to the ink heavy, jittery work of Bachalo (there is some common ground in their character design, but that's about it).

Bradshaw's highly-detailed work recalls that of Arthur Adams to a degree, and while it takes a bit of getting used to after Bachalo's introductions to the cast—his handsome, smooth-chinned Wolverine especially caught me off guard after seeing a few issues of Bachalo's more feral, hairy version—Bradshaw does an excellent job of establishing all of the characters and the settings, in a way that it would have probably helped in the earlier issues of the series as well.

A sort of deep-breath issue, #4 not only introduces Bradshaw, but the new, new students—Genesis and Angel—and introduces a rather mundane conflict (What are the X-Men gonna do for funding, if they have to rebuild the whole school after the first day?) and a rather bizarre one (Kitty Pryde becomes mysteriously seven months pregnant practically over night).

This is such a different take on the X-Men, that it is hard to imagine it ever being the take on the X-Men, but because Marvel has such a huge line of X-books, there was an unexploited niche this book could claim as its own. If you want mutant superheroes fighting each other, debating politics and mulling over their byzantine continuity, there are plenty of books for that. This is the big, crazy, funny X-Men comic.