Saturday, March 01, 2014

Comic shop comics: February 5-26

Adventures of Superman #10 (DC Comics) It’s not clear just from reading this issue if the two stories between its covers are grouped together entirely by coincidence, if they are together because they have the same premise and thus fit snugly as a pair, or if this is actually the start of a whole run of stories on that premise.

The first of these is written by Derek Fridolfs and includes the set-up that the second, written by a Josh Elder, eschews.

The guys from the Daily Planet mail room have run out of space to store all the mail they get for Superman, care of Lois Lane or Clark Kent, and dump them on the reporters’ desks. While Lois drags Jimmy away to cover a story, Clark leans back and digs into the mail which is, of course, really for him.

He eventually finds one to answer in person:
It turns out that young Theo is the monster, and he’s developed some strange form of diabetes in which the insulin that keeps the disease at bay also turns him into a monster. Superman fights his monster form, but obviously doesn’t kill him.

The second story is framed as a letter-to-Superman. A young girl’s letter narrates the action, involving a battle between Superman and Metallo in the streets of Metropolis, and then moves on to telling Superman about how she has cancer, and Superman visits her in her ward.
(No Superman, that’s a terrible name).

So two stories of children with chronic, likely incurable diseases, writing to Superman for help he can’t give them, really, but Superman showing up to do whatever he can anyway.

The first is by far the most striking, bearing artwork by Sean “I refuse to call him ‘Cheeks’” Galloway (He pencils and colors, while Derek Laufman gets an inking credit).

Galloway is artist with an extremely distinctive style, and here it is put to some of the best use I’ve seen it, certainly better than that of his often confused and hard-to-read Teen Titans strip in Wednesday Comics.

It is still heavily animation influenced, particularly anime influenced, and has the luminous quality that makes the panels look like individual animation cels. Design-wise, cues are taken from Superman: The Animated Series, and all of the characters featured show a more-than-passing resemblance to those designs.

The main antagonist is the monster Theo turns into, which looks so much like a Pokemon or Digimon—something from the ‘mon family—that it’s more cute than terribly threatening.

In addition to Superman, Clark, Lois and Jimmy, the story features brief appearances from Lex Luthor, one of his chauffer/Girl Fridays (left unnamed), and Brainiac’s skull ship. They seem present mostly so Galloway can draw them, which is fine by me.

Galloway draws Superman with a little mole on his left cheek, which is kind of interesting in how distinctive a trait it is. Naturally, Clark has the same mole in the same place, heightening the two characters’ appearances to another level of delightful absurdity.

Aquaman #28 (DC) This issue opens with Aquaman discovering “Triton Base,” the mysterious/sketchy underwater research base where Dr. Shin currently works. There, Aquaman beats up a school of Great White sharks who have just eaten all the limbs off a diver (Don’t worry, he will get better, as one of the mad scientists there is given the head and torso to do experiments with). It closes with a surface archaeologist beginning to raise Atlantis.

The interesting passage is the one in the middle, where Mera convinces Aquaman to attend his high school reunion, which is the sort of premise (and strong execution) I’ve been waiting for from new writer Jeff Parker, whose work often has something that the work of previous writer Geoff Johns often lacks: A sense of humor.

Aquaman attending an Amnesty High reunion and reconnecting with the people who used to be the kids he went to school would have been a story that couldn’t be told in the old, post-Crisis continuity, where Aquaman was raised by a pod of dolphins (an origin story I prefer to the restored Silver Age origin, but whatever, that ship has sailed), so it’s nice to see a writer taking the rejiggering of the DCU as an opportunity to look for new blanks to fill in with new information and new stories, even if, in this case, they are mostly anecdotes serving a greater story (and still in keeping with one of the major themes of the book so far, the way the surface world perceives Aquaman).

There are still two inkers working on the book, but Andrew Hennessy only inks two of the 21 pages, while Sean Parsons inks the rest. And, this time out, Paul Pelletier is the sole pencil artist, and the book looks better than it has since I started reading it again a few issues ago.

Batman ’66 #8 (DC) Two stories this issue, one creative team: Writer Jeff Parker and artist Ruben Procopio. Interestingly enough, Procopio draws each story in a different style, so that while the figure work and rendering are identical, they look at first glance like the work of different artists.

In the first, Batman and Robin find King Tut sailing on The Gotham River on a barge (hence that pun obscuring far too much of Mike Allred’s crocodilian crowd on the cover), filled with ancient Egyptian treasures that, while authentic, haven’t been stolen from anywhere.

So where is Tut getting them? Ancient Egypt, of course, as Batman and Robin discover when they trail Tut and his gang back in time and uncover his bizarre plot.

This story also functions as the secret origin of Killer Croc ’66, who we haven’t seen just yet. One of Tut’s gang is a big, tough guy named Waylon, who, upon hearing of a magic potion that will make a man’s skin so tough that it will be bullet-proof—its bottle labeled with a crocodile head—downs the whole thing.

After his transformation begins…
…he runs off, escaping the Gotham City Police Department. Pretty sure we haven’t seen the last of Waylon yet.

The second story, “Showdown With Shame!,” sees Procopio coloring his own art (Lee Loughridge colored the King Tut story), and it has a slightly washed-out, more painterly look to it, one that was so evocative of Kyle Baker’s work that, upon first seeing it on a flip-through, I actually flipped immediately back to the cover to see if Kyle Baker did contribute to the book or not (Obviously, he did not. But it would be great if he did someday!).

A seriously sillier story, this one finds Batman wearing a cowboy hat over his cowl throughout (Luckily, Batman ’66 has such little round bat-ears they fit comfortably beneath a cowboy hat. I would love to see Kelley Jones’ Batman in a cowboy hat…he’d have to cut holes for the foot-long ears to stick out of).

He and Robin are on horseback pursuing Western-themed robber named not Shane but Shame, who has the girl in his gang dress up like a saloon dancing girl and the disgraced Native American physicist Daniel Grayhawk go by the name “Thunderhawk.” (“A thousand pardons, Shame,” he says when his boss tells him to tone down all the fancy book-learnin' talk, “I mean, UGH.")

While this is a shorter, simpler story, there’s a pretty neat climax in which Batman, who has one of Shame’s guns tucked into his utility belt after disarming the bandit, finds himself in a classic quick-draw shoot-out. But Batman doesn’t use guns! What a dilemma! (I won’t spoil it, but don’t worry; Batman is not shot to death at the end).

Classic Popeye #19 (IDW) Hey, I actually read one of those prose stories that appear in these comics! They no longer involve Swee’Pea and Pappy or any Popeye characters, but have been rather random, featuring little bug people or something. This is only the second one I read (I read one of the Pappy/Swee’Pea ones involving tigers many issues ago). It was terrible, and I will try to never do that again.

As for the comics content, there are three short stories in this issue. One stars a character named Sherm, and involves him visiting a neighbor girl whose father is an inventor. I did not care for Sagendorf’s drawing of an octopus in this story, which seemed to be missing something.
Well, four things actually. They’re called octopuses, not quadropuses, dammit!

Of the two Popeye stories, one is a rather pedestrian affair involving Popeye handing a 1,000-dollar bill to his adopted talking baby and asking said baby to down to the Harbor Master and pay the monthly mooring fee for him.

The second, stronger story is entitled “The Happy Spring,” and involves Popeye, Olive and Swee’Pea discovering a magical spring that turns grown-ups into babies and babies into grown-ups, resulting in a story in which Swee’pea grows to adulthood (looking an awful lot like Ham Gravy, actually) and starts wearing Popeye’s clothes (and tyrannically bossing the grown-ups around). Popeye and Olive, meanwhile, are turned into babies, although have their normal heads—and, in Popeye’s case, forearms—attached to little bodies in Swee’Pea-like nightshirts.
Baby Popeye sure is a sight to behold.

Daredevil #36 (Marvel Entertainment) This is the final issue of the Mark Waid-written volume of Daredevil, most recently drawn by Chris Samnee with fill-ins by Javier Rodriguez. It is going to be realunched as a new volume, with a brand-new #1, immediately, with the exact same creative team.

In fact, there really only seems to be two differences between Daredevil #36 and the impending Daredevil #1, aside from the numbers on the cover.

First, the next volume of Daredevil will feature a new setting. Or, rather, a new-old setting, as Matt Murdock and his alternate superhero identity relocate in San Francisco.

Second, the book will see a 33% price increase, moving from the disappearing Marvel price point of $2.99/20-ish pages to the now pretty much standard $3.99/20-ish pages format.

Obviously, I’m agin’ the second change, because I am an old miser, and can’t reconcile myself to dropping $4 on a comic book…especially not when there are still so many selling for $3 (If Marvel could have eased us into the change, I would likely be more accepting, but they just straight up jumped to an extra buck, with no stops along the way, at like $3.50 or $3.75).

In the case of the Daredevil book though, I sort of worry about the impact that new, higher cost might have on the books long-term future. Daredevil has, for a rather long time now, been one of the more rock-solid consistent books in terms of sales, with the needle never jumping or falling very far, issue to issue, ever since Waid oversaw this latest relaunch. Obviously, charging an extra $1 is enough to drive at least this regular reader away, but one reader less won’t hurt Marvel’s bottom line much. But are there more like me out there? Are there a thousand? Or 5,000? If so, then the number of people they might manage to attract with a new #1—which is always, always, always a temporary increase, anyway—might not make up for the number of people that leave the book.

Relaunches, after all, are jumping-off points as well as jumping-on points, and in this particular case Marvel isn’t offering any new enticements (other than a lower issue number of the covers), but building in one big drawback (that extra dollar per issue). In essence then, they’re offering the exact same product at a higher cost, and they’ve even gone to the trouble of wrapping up almost all of the ongoing plotlines in a neat little bow with this issue.

I hope I’m not representative of too many readers, as I would like to read more of Waid, Samnee and Rodriguez’s Daredevil comics—even if it will now be in trade collections borrowed from libraries every few months, like the majority of the Marvel comics I read now, rather than in monthly installments—and this whole charge ‘em-more-for-the-same-thing plan doesn’t seem all that sound to me.

Oh, the comic? It was pretty great, obviously, and I was really struck by the audacity of Waid’s plotting here, as it will be very, very hard to walk back a few of the changes made here. Not impossible, of course, I mean, Marvel managed to keep publishing comics after they published recent-ish universe-breakers like Civil War and One More Day, but to un-do some of this, they’re going to need a pretty smart writer to write through some pretty elaborate hoops to get there.

The rationale for the change of setting, I thought, was pretty clever, and I like how it came to Matt. I do sort of wished there was a stronger resolution of the Foggy sub-plot, as I’m not sure if he’s going or staying after reading this.

DC Universe Vs. Masters of The Universe #5 (DC) I’ll write at too-great length about this in the near future, as I have with the first four issues, for consistency’s sake if nothing else. It is, obviously, completely fucking terrible. A few things of note for those that don’t really care about it at all, and thus won’t be interested in my later, page-by-page dissection of it, though:

1.) This is the first issue without a cover by Ed Benes. Is even Ed Benes sick of this shit?

2.) Batman tells everyone that The Secret Six used to use the House of Secrets as their headquarters, which would be the first mention of that team in New 52 continuity, I believe (And given what we know of some of those characters, and the fact that the events leading up to Infinite Crisis that formed their team didn’t happen in the new continuity, I’m pretty sure the Secret Six existing in the past of the New 52’s six-year continuity is an impossibility).

3.)  Joker, with the face that I thought The Joker’s Daughter was wearing re-stapled to his own head, appears in this. I think that would be his first post-“Death of the Family” appearance, and is almost definitely an art mistake that someone should have edited out, right?

Hawkeye #15 (Marvel) If Clint Barton isn’t dead forever after the events of this issue, than I really rather badly misread David Aja’s art on the last three pages. And given the fact that this is the book about Barton when he's not hanging around with Avengers with reality-warping powers and suchlike, an easy resurrection seems less likely to occur in this book then in any Avengers title.

She-Hulk #1 (Marvel) I actually just came for the Javier Pulido art—although I have liked several comics prominently featuring this character in the past, including her Dan Slott-written solo series and the just-wrapped up Fraction/Allred FF series—but ended up really enjoying the whole package.

Very much inspired by the early parts of Slott’s run on the volume, which was something of a superhero Ally McBeal, a dramedy set in a wacky Marvel Universe law firm, after a one-page montage of She-Hulk She-Hulking…
…it moves on to a She-Hulk as lawyer/superhero in the Marvel Universe, done-in-one plotline.

Passed over for promotion at her law firm because she was just a good lawyer, rather than bringing in the high-profile, superhero clientele the partners thought she’d be good for when they hired her, she quits, and goes to the lawyer bar to get drunk.

There she meets a woman with a case no other lawyer will touch—a patent case against Tony Stark—but she thinks she can solve it with a simple conversation, since, as we’ve seen from the opening splash, she’s at least good drinking buddies with Stark.

Nevertheless, in addition to legal legwork, this also involves the fighting of multiple robots.

The art is, as expected, gorgeous. Pulido’s art is bright, clear and uncluttered: every line counts, and there’s detail when called for and it drops away when focus needs to fall on something in the foreground. It’s so good that I think it’s deceptively good; if one reads many superhero comics, one becomes so used to inept, muddy and/or just plain ugly artwork that it is sometimes surprising to see really good art, and realize just how simple such good art can be in its basic construction (even if execution is another matter entirely).

There's also some really great color work by Munsta Vicente, something that is incredibly important with a character like She-Hulk, whose main visual signifiers are, after all, her coloration. It’s brilliantly bright, appropriately simple, and fills in the empty space left by Pulido’s stripped-down art beautifully.

I came for Pulido’s art, but ended up liking the book overall. Come for whatever reason you like—Pulido, She-Hulk, writer Charles Soule, to give Marvel the benefit of the doubt for trying another series with a female lead, or for trying another humorous superhero book—but do come check it out. The second issue should be out this coming Wednesday, I believe.


Aki Alaraatikka said...

I was gonna buy the newest She-hulk series in trade anyway. Because I knew it would be great.

Sean McGurr said...

I'm like you: dropping Daredevil with this issue and picking up the trades in the library.

SallyP said...

There were some really fine books here, I do have to say. I am loving the Adventures of Superman, because it is the REAL Superman! Batman '66 is always hilarious, and I also enjoyed She-Hulk and Daredevil.

Dagnabit, these books were...dare I say it...FUN!