Monday, June 30, 2014

Review: Uncanny X-Force: Final Execution Book 2

And so here we are, the final volume collecting Rick Remender's 35-issue run on Uncanny X-Force. While the almost three-year run on the series offered plenty of simple, surface pleasures, some no more complex than seeing familiar characters in newer, cooler costumes, or seeing Deadpool written with a degree of seriousness (more Spider-Man, less Ambush Bug), or lots of mutant super-people running around and fighting one another, what impressed me most about the series, what kept me reading it through eight collected volumes was the relentless way in which Remender stayed focused on a theme.

Remender inherited the concept of a black-ops mutant kill squad lead by Wolverine to do in secret the nasty things that the regular X-Men couldn't do in public, re-stocking his cast with killers and mercenaries like Wolverine, Deadpool and Fantomex, and good people-teetering-on-going-bad characters like Psylocke and Angel/Archangel (with killer cyborg from the future Deathlok and vengeance-driven "Age of Apocalypse" Nightcrawler coming and going). In the very first story arc, they were confronted with the decision to either kill a little boy who was destined to grow up to be a new version of the worst of all X-Men villains, or let him live and hope that he chooses not to embrace the badness he was born with, a sort of X-Men riff on the old conundrum of whether or not one could, should or would kill Hitler as a baby.

Only one of them, Fantomex, was able to pull the trigger, and even he was conflicted enough that he decided to secretly clone the boy and raise him in a virtual reality tank to test the idea of nature versus nurture vis a vis born killers, a question close to his heart, and the hearts of his teammates. Throughout the next seven volumes, the characters would be haunted by that first moral quandary, and constantly doubting themselves, whether a black-ops mutant kill squad was a good idea or the worst idea ever, and worrying about what kind of people they must be to be a part of it, whether they were "heroes" or "villains" in the comic book way of looking at things.

"Final Execution" is the final storyline of Remender's run of the book, and the second story arc so big it necessitated being stretched over two collections (following "The Dark Angel Saga," in which Archangel's own struggle with whether he's predisposed for evil reaches it climax, and our heroes have to again decide whether to kill one to save many). Remender has assembled a "greatest hits" collection of villains from throughout his run on the title, throwing in some of Wolverine's deadliest archenemies for good measure, to form a new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Sabretooth and Daken lead Mystique, Shadow King, The Blog from the "Age of Apocalypse" timeline, The Skinless Man and The Omega Clan in killing Fantomex and capturing Evan, the cloned Apocalypse child who has been attending Wolverine's Jean Grey School (in the pages of Jason Aaron's Wolverine and The X-Men) and using the name Genesis.

He's bait for Wolverine, meant to bring Wolvie to their underwater base off the coast of Genosha, but he's also an opportunity for the villains to try and "break" him, to get him to embrace his inner bad guy and become Apocalypse, answering everyone's questions about the nature of good and evil, of nature and nurture, once and for all.

This volume is essentially a book-length fight scene between the various combatants, with a surprise betrayal and a series of deaths and almost-deaths, including some extremely creative finishes to individual battles (In finally getting his revenge against AoA Blob, for example, AoA Nightcralwer teleports a live shark inside The Blob's stomach). All of our (anti-)heroes ultimately survive "Final Execution," but the same can't be said of the villains, the killing of whom in at least one case seems to be about as bad a defeat as possible for Wolverine. He has to kill Daken, which he does so by drowning him in a shallow puddle; that, Sabretooth gloats, was the ultimate point of all this: To put Wolverine in a kill or be killed position with his own son.

As far as long-term plotting and adherence to themes go, Remender's Uncanny X-Force is a pretty remarkable book, especially considering the fact that it's part of the X-Men line, and prominently features characters like Deadpool and, more especially still, Wolverine, who have multiple books of their own and appear all over the Marvel Universe more-or-less constantly. Daken's appearance in these last few volumes, along with that of Sabretooth, might seem a little sudden, considering how late in the game they appear, but Remender uses them to play into his themes perfectly well, particularly Daken who is himself, like Evan, a living example of the nature versus nurture questions. Using these double of Wolverine also helps to throw into sharper relief the question of whether Wolverine and his kill crew are really heroes or villains, and just what exactly separates a guy like Wolverine who kills constantly from guys like Sabretooth and Daken who likewise kill constantly—is it really just a matter of a choice of targets?

After the "Final Execution" story arc ends, there's a nice one-issue epilogue story entitled "Rainbows, Puppy Dogs and Sunshine," which essentially breaks up the band, sends the characters back into their own respective corners and storylines and, rather generously, sets up a complication for the next writer of the series, which, this being Marvel, is actually a whole new volume of the series, starting over with a new #1.

Wolverine buries Daken in Japan, Psylocke has a heart-to-heart with her brother in Otherworld, Deadpool—back in his red costume which I don't like nearly as much as his gray one—sneaks into Evan's room for a final heart-to-heart, there's a one-panel revelation that more-or-less absolves Wolverine of his killing Daken in the climax of "Final Execution" (which sure seemed rather overtly brutal and merciless to me at the time) and, finally, they pop Fantomex into some sort of resurrection machine to bring him back to life, which works. Sorta. Instead of one Fantomex with three brains, they get three Fantomexes, each with a different brain, but that's up to Remender's successor Sam Humphries to sort out in Uncanny X-Force vol. 2, which features Psylocke and an otherwise brand-new team: Storm, Bishop, Spiral and Puck.

I'll probably get to that series eventually, but I don't know. It's got Bishop in it...

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Week in Geoff Johns Comics, Part 2: Superman #32

As stated in the previous part, the big news about this particular issue isn't its writer, but its artist: John Romita Jr, whose name is so synonymous with Marvel, it's difficult to think of a more surprising creator to show up for work on a DC book in 2014 (Brian Michael Bendis, maybe?). I'm not too terribly surprised that DC finally convinced JRJR to draw for them, as I have to imagine that no matter how much loyalty a professional superhero artist might have for the publisher Marvel, that artist would still want to spend at least part of their career drawing Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash and Green Lantern, and since there don't seem to be any DC/Marvel crossovers on the horizon, JRJR had to draw something for DC eventually, right?

I am a little surprised to see him come on to the massively troubled Superman title (although DC probably wanted him and Johns there to stabilize it), as I would have expected Detective Comics would have been a more appealing place to start (Batman being the most visually interesting of DC's stable, and having such a big, weird cast and setting for an artist to play with; that almost-as-troubled book just got a new creative team a few issues ago), or perhaps a Justice League comic, as that would allow Romita to start drawing as many DC icons as possible right out of the gate. (When previous long-time Marvel-artist-drawing-for-DC Mark Bagley came aboard, DC gave him first a weekly series that spanned much of the DC Universe in Trinity, and then gave him Justice League of America. Before that, the Kuberts were pretty big Marvel guy "gets," and DC gave Andy Batman and Adam Action, but their inability to keep a schedule render the presence of both artists at the publisher all but meaningless...I guess Andy's become a semi-regular cover artist).

When I say troubled, I'm referring to the behind-the-scenes and on-the-page creative chaos. Superman was rebooted with a new number one and new, retconned continuity in September of 2011, and is one of the inaugural group of New 52 titles that has yet to be canceled. At it's launch, its creative team consisted of George Perez (writing, providing breakdowns and drawing the covers) and Jesus Merino (finishing the interior art). They were in a pretty rough spot, actually, as Superman was the secondary Superman title, and was set in the present, while Grant Morrison, Rags Morales and company were establishing Superman's new origin and history in the pages of Action Comics at the very same time Perez and company were supposed to be telling stories set five years after the Action Comics stuff they hadn't seen yet (And, complicating matters further, Geoff Johns and Jim Lee were also telling a pivotal Superman story set in the characters new past in the pages of Justice League).

Perez wasn't happy, but let's not rehash all that. Suffice it to say that in it's just-shy-of-three-year-existence, Superman has had five different writers or writing teams (Perez for six issues, Keith Giffen and Dan Jurgens for four issues, just Jurgens for two issues, Scott Lobdell for 17 issues and Mike Johnson for 2 three different writers on the decimal-pointed issues from Villains Month, but let's ignore those) and about a dozen or so artists in various configurations, not counting fill-in inkers and Villains Month artists (Perez and Merino; just Merino; Perez and Nicola Scott and Trevor Scott; Nicola Scott and Trevor Scott; Giffen, Scott, Jurgens and Merino; Jurgens and Merino; Kenneth Rocafort; Rocafort, Tyler Kirkham and Robson Rocha; Aaron Kuder; Eddy Barrows; Ken Lashley; Ed Benes; Brett Booth).

Of them all, Lobdell writing and Rocafort drawing has been the longest collaboration, but this is one of those book's that never really settled down into anything resembling consistency, and even once DC got Lobdell and Rocafort together, their storylines were being interrupted by Superman line crossovers and stunts like the zero issue and those decimal point issues.

One might think that a creative team comprised of such talented, high-profile creators as Geoff Johns and JRJR (who, both, perhaps most importantly for a book like this, have reputations for meeting deadlines and staying on books for a while) is the sort of creative team you would launch a book like Superman with, not have come in on issue #32. If nothing else, one might expect DC to relaunch Superman with a new #1, but no dice.
So the new creative team—which also consists of frequent JRJR inker Klaus Janson, colorist Laura Martin and letterer Sal Cipriano—comes on board with the randomly numbered issue, Johns' return to a Superman monthly and JRJR's arrival at DC heralded by a wraparound cover featuring Clark Kent turning into Superman (I thought it interesting that they chose that particular cover, as it features Superman's New 52 transformation sequence, in which he doesn't wear a Superman costume under his clothes, exactly, but, like, summons it somehow and it builds itself on his body nanotechnologically or some such; if this was your first Superman comic, and you missed the introduction to the new suit, the sequence looks pretty weird, like Superman ran through a couple of water balloons while turning from Clark Kent to Superman).

This first issue reminded me rather a lot of the beginning of Superman Unchained, the last Superman book to feature a super-high-profile creative team (Scott Snyder and Jim Lee, if you forgot), which was sold and launched as an ongoing monthly but became a miniseries because, you know, Jim Lee. Like Superman Unchained, this issue introduces a Superman mirror character, in the form of Ulysses.

It opens 25 years ago at the Ulysses Research Center, three miles below Omaha, Nebraska. There is a terrible accident, in which the "strange matter from dimension two" the scientists there were apparently studying begins eating/destroying the locked-down lab. Two scientists, who look so similar they could be brother and sister, fear for their baby son, who is in the lab with them, it apparently being Bring Your Baby To Work Day, and while they can't save themselves, they can save him (sound familiar?) by launching him through a portal to "Dimension Four."
A turn of the page reveals a two-page splash of Superman KO-ing a giant, robot gorilla. I have to assume this splash page was a factor in Chris Sims' positive review of the book at Comics Alliance (which I haven't read yet as I type this, but will have by the time you read it). It is indeed an awesome image, and one that earns the space it occupies in the book. It's a genuinely good use of a two-page splash, something Johns actually rather rarely does, as enamored of splashes as he is.

This giant robot gorilla is, by the way, revealed to (a?) New 52 Titano, now apparently a robot gorilla rather than a mutated giant chimpanzee with Kryptonite laser eyes.
The original Titano, as drawn by Curt Swan
The gorilla's head emanates a sickly green light, so I assume Kryptonite is involved in there somewhere, but they never really discuss that. This is basically just an action scene of Superman being super before we get to the plot.
Next, we jump to the Daily Planet newsroom, where Jimmy Olsen tries selling a terrible photo of Superman fighting Titano to Perry White, who has first an earnest conversation with Jimmy Olsen about some weird back-story I'm hearing here for the first time (his parents left him tens of millions of dollars in a business clerical error, before disappearing, and Jimmy expects them to return some day once they're cleared of allegations against them. Yeah, I don't know), and then has an earnest conversation with Clark, Bendis-ing at him about how he needs to find friends and people to talk to, and also that he'd like to hire him back to work at the Planet, because that blog stuff was stupid.

The scene includes an image of Superman's "death," which bugs the hell out of me.
Supposedly "The Death of Superman" occurred in the newer, shorter New 52 continuity, somewhere in the first five years of Superman's career, but it must have happened completely differently; imagine that story with a Lois Lane who doesn't know or love Superman and Clark Kent, without the Justice League that is in it, without Supergirl, Steel, Superboy or The Cyborg Superman. I'll just never understand DC's decision to have a new "secret" continuity that contains a few of the events from the stories in their huge back catalog of trades and collections, but completely differently, so that a reader need not, like, buy or read those books.

There's also a panel or two that really drives home how similar the post-Forever Evil status quo of (some parts of) the DC Universe is to the post-Secret Invasion, "Dark Reign" status quo of the Marvel Universe from a few years ago.

"'Lex Luthor Saves The World!'," Perry reads one of his own headlines aloud, "Bad guys are good. Good guys are bad. Thins have been turned upside down."

After the Daily Planet scene, something happens that I'm actually surprised it hasn't happened yet, as it so perfectly visually represents the entire middle-aged white guys awkwardly pandering to an imaginary young, hip, new demographic they imagine exists, that it just a few quick drawings conveys the spirit of Jim Lee grafting the WildStorm Universe to the DC Universe, redesigning all of the most iconic superhero costumes and hiring Bob Harrass, Scott Lobdell and Rob Liefeld.

I am, of course, talking about Superman's backwards baseball cap:
He wears it during a sequence demonstrating the loneliness that Perry White was just talking to him about, as Superman grocery shops, makes dinner, eats alone, and then sits around in his living room, looking at a photo-album of his dead adoptive parents.
Luckily, someone's screaming for help somewhere! I love what Romita, Janson and Martin do with that last panel there.

So there's a weird-looking alien in a weird-looking ship, destroying things. There's a fight. There's a mysterious stranger with an apparent connection to Superman's past. Just when it looks like the alien has Superman on the ropes, a character strongly resembling the scientist in the first scene appears out of a glowing blue portal, beats on the guy beating on Superman, and, together, the two supermen punch the attacker so hard his face and torso cave in and he emits a giant dome of blue light, before collapsing.

The new guy introduces himself as Ulysses, and says he thought he was from Earth, and that Earth was destroyed, but apparently not. And so Superman, who was just being all lonely, finds himself confronted with another superpowered young man whose birth parents rocketed him away to save him from destruction! Will they be friends now?

I'm going to guess that yes, yes they are. For a few issues. And then they will fight, when Superman realizes all is not what it seems with Ulysses, who may not necessarily be evil, but will be revealed to have been manipulated and somewhat emotionally unstable because of it. And then Superman will return to the Daily Planet, taking Perry's advice to spend more time with people and re-befriend Lois and Jimmy, who seemed awfully tight with in Superman Unchained and Action Comics, but he seems rather distant from them in this comic.

Just guessing, of course.

For a shorter, more on-point and more-knowledgeable review, might I suggest Tom Bondurant's at Robot 6...? (That Sims review is well-written, as well, if you didn't click on the link to it already.)

Friday, June 27, 2014


I reviewed Archie Comics #656, the issue that introduced the much-talked-about new character Harper, for Good Comics For Kids.

I reviewed Super Secret Crisis War #1, the kick-off of IDW's rather weird characters-from-a-bunch-of-old-Cartoon Network-cartoons crossover, at Robot 6 (Of the shows included, Powerpuff Girls and Samurai Jack are the only ones I ever watched extensively, but I still found it engaging).

And, finally, I wrote a piece on why Michael Keaton is the best of the live-action Batmen as part of Comics Alliance's coverage of the 25th anniversary of the release of Batman '89 (all of which can be found here).


Batman: Mask of The Phantasm > Batman '89 and Batman Returns > Batman '66 > The Dark Knight > The Dark Knight Rises > Batman Begins > Batman and Robin > Batman Forever


I always enjoy the monthly month-to-month sales figures and analysis at The Beat, and this installment on Marvel's May by Jason Enright is a good one.

He compares the sales of the first issue of Marvel's latest big event/crossover story with those of the previous ones, and, as he notes, this particular batch gives us a pretty good idea of how well all of those re-re-relaunched series like, say Wolverine and Fantastic Four are doing holding on to their sales (Surprise! The returns are diminished), and how well some of those quirkier "All-New Marvel Now" launches with interesting teams on relatively minor characters are doing.

A lot of the latter aren't actually setting the sales charts on fire, despite positive reviews, but it is worth noting that, in the grand scheme of things, it's probably not terribly important to Marvel whether Black Widow, She-Hulk, All-New Ghost Rider and Silver Surfer get cancelled at 12 issues are at 42 issues. Even if they flame out rather early on, Marvel will still have enough to fill a trade paperback to sell the material a second or third time (following the serially published paper comics and digital copies), and have a nice little package to shop around for potential movies or TV shows (this volume of Moon Knight looks a lot easier to adapt to a small or silver screen than the last few stabs at an ongoing, for example).

And Marvel does have literally thousands of characters in their catalogue, so replacing a canceled, 12-issue run on, say, Elektra with a critically-acclaimed, quirky new book starring Machine Man or Woodgod or Devil Dinosaur or Fin Fang Foom that only lasts a short while is easy enough.


So that Red Robin origin story in Secret Origins #3 that I kvetched about the other night...?

I've been thinking a lot—with "a lot" defined of "at all"—about it the last few days, and the fact that its rather radical alterations to the origin and career of Tim Drake really knocks almost everything in Batman history from 1989-2008 out of continuity (Perhaps most weirdly, the earlier chapters of Grant Morrison's multi-year run on the Batman books, as DC allowed him to finish the story more-or-less as planned—costume tweaks and character substitutions aside—even while the post-Flashpoint, New 52 reboot rendered large chunks of it untenable. That whole storyline now seems like Grant Morrison running across a rope bridge that's been set on fire, trying to reach the end before the flames eat up enough of the bridge to destroy its structural integrity and send him and the whole thing plummeting into the chasm below).

Basically, DC threw out every single Batman story except "A Death In The Family" and The Killing Joke, which still happened with alterations (different costumes, Barbara Gordon being much, much younger when she was attacked...Oh God, was she a minor in The New 52 continuity, adding a further layer of icky atop that icky scene?), the two stories they pointedly un-did the effects from, i.e. resurrecting the dead Jason Todd and restoring the legs of the paralyzed Barbara Gordon.

It is weird that the only old Batman stories that are definitely still regarded as being in-continuity are the two that DC definitely changed the outcomes of, right? It's not just me?


Hey look, Abhay Khosla writing about comics! I love when that happens!

In that particular Savage Critics column, he discusses a bunch of 15-year-old (or thereabouts) comics he pulled out of longboxes in what I take to be his ancestral home, offering up his memories of them (or lack thereof). Also, I nice, sharp Jim Lee joke.

Of the comics he discusses, the only ones I also bought and read were Trencher #1 (of which I remember nothing except the title, Keith Giffen and weird art), Sovereign Seven (not that particular issue; I only read the one that featured Garth Ennis and John McCrea's Hitman, who was horribly out of character in it...although I do have a particularly vivid memory of a DC house ad for S7, as I'm sure someone used to call it, featuring Darkseid sipping espresso from a tiny little espresso cup), Geisha (Andi Watson forever! I am shocked, surprised and alarmed that Abhay doesn't know more about Watson's career; maybe I should write a post about Watson's career in the near future...?), Action Girl (I bought all the issues for the Chynna Clugston stuff in the early 00s, after I read her first Blue Monday series for Oni, at Magnolia Thunderpussy in Columbus, of all places) and the Adam Warren Gen 13, which Abhay sums up rathe perfectly thusly: "Warren had been handed a book people had stopped caring about and just went on a joyride." Between mini-series, fill-ins and a good-sized run on the ongoing, Warren really turned out a quite sizable run on those character, and if you asked me, "Caleb, what's, like, the best super-comic ever?" I don't know that I'd say "Adam Warren's Gen 13," but as I cast about for an answer, I'd sure say it aloud while thinking to myself. It's a pretty great example of taking a tired, maybe exhausted premise or concept or character or IP, one that the creators hadn't really thought all that much of, and handing it to a talented auteur to do whatever with (Another great example would be what DC did with Swamp Thing in the mid-to-late '80s. Also, all of the super-books that became the Vertigo imprint; that was basically Vertigo's business plan at the start, wasn't it?)


Given the title of last night's post, you might have come here tonight expecting a review of Superman #32 by Geoff Johns and John Romita Jr. But you got a "Meanwhile..." post instead.


Because I had to go see the Dinobots in Transformers: Age of Extinction tonight, and that movie was two hours and 45 minutes, which meant the time I would have spent polishing the Superman review post was instead spent watching expensive special effects.

It was, by the standards of 21st century Transformers movies, excellent, but I was rather disappointed by the Dinobots, who are never referred to as Dinobots, are never given individual names and none of whom speak (There was no room for a single "Me Grimlock" in a two-hour-and-45-minute film!).

Given the title, the ad campaign and the opening scene, I expected much more in the way of Dinobots, although they really get little more than an extended cameo (on the plus side, fewer racist caricature-bots than the previous films, with only the Japanese-accented samurai-bot who calls Optimus Prime "Sensei" and recites haiku there to insult large swathes of potential audience members).

What I found interesting about the Dinobots was which ones they used, and which they didn't. There were (again, unnamed) robots that turned into dinosaurs, a Tyrannosaurus Rex, a Triceratops, a pterosaur-ish winged creature (it has two heads and two tails, and resembles the two-headed dragon mode of Megatron from the Robots In Disguise cartoon series) and a Spinosaurus.

The original Dinobots featured five dinosaurs, a T-Rex, a triceratops, a pterosaur, a stegosaurus and a sauropod. Those last two don't make the film, replaced instead by the Spinosaurus character. I guess this says something about the popularity of particular type of dinosaurs in pop culture in the second decade of the 21st century? (I would have made the pterosaur a Hatzegopteryx or a Quetzalcoatlus, personally, and included a sauropod, but man, if they asked me for advice, all of these movies would be very, very different).

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Week In Geoff Johns Comics, Part One: Justice League #31

Geoff Johns doesn't seem to be doing quite as much writing as he used to be doing, but he's still got two books on his schedule, Justice League and a high-profile run on Superman, which starts this week and will likely be one of the more talked-about and watched books to ship this week (in large part because of its pencil artist, John Romita Jr, breaking away from a literal lifetime of drawing for Marvel in order to tackle some DC superheroes, which I have to imagine a guy who draws superheroes for a living would want to have the opportunity to do at some point in his career).

Both of these books shipped this week, so let's take a look at how the comics Geoff Johns is writing at the moment turned out.
Ivan Reis drew this image.
Justice League #31, drawn by pencil artist Doug Mahnke and inked by Keith Champagne "with" Christian Alamy, is a 22-page, $3.99 book. The average DC comic, at least a few months ago, was 20-pages for $2.99. Do you know what the means? The last two pages of this comic book must cost fifty-cents a piece. So I hope you really enjoy the debut of the all-new, New 52 Doom Patrol in a classic Geoff Johnsian climactic splash page (Retroactive spoiler alert!), because it was pretty expensive compared to each of those first 20 pages.

This issue follows up on he few post-Forever Evil plot points introduced in the previous issue of this series: 1) Power Ring's power ring, which fled from his body after Sinestro buzz-sawed his arm off and then incinerated the Earth-3 version of Hal Jordan, has approached an Earth-1 lady named Jessica Cruz and offered itself to her ring finger, and 2) Lex Luthor wants to join the Justice League since him and his villain bros saved the world from the Crime Syndicate and, since the Justice League is all no way dude, he goes to Bruce Wayne's house to tell him he knows he's totally Batman.

Now, despite everything else that might have happened in Forever Evil, up to and including the introduction of The New 52 Anti-Monitor, the biggest Oh no they di'nt! moment came quite early on, when The Syndicate captured Nightwing and then unmasked him and told everyone everywhere on Earth that he was really Dick Grayson (not just people who happened to be watching TV; literally everyone, as they hacked every electronic device with a sound and/or speaker in order to broadcast this information).

What was shocking about this is that Dick Grayson is either the adopted son or the ward (not sure which, in the current continuity) of Gotham City billionaire philanthropist celebrity Bruce Wayne, a man who had previously given a news conference to announce that he was Batman's financier (which is still in continuity, according to "Death of the Family" in Batman and Batman Eternal, so don't give me that!).

So, with Grayson outted as a Gotham City vigilante and long-time Batman associate, it shouldn't take too much thinking to develop a theory that Bruce Wayne, who disappeared for years only to return to Gotham City about the same time The Batman first appeared, is probably Batman. Maybe not enough evidence to hold up in a court of law, as it would likely be mostly circumstantial, but, if nothing else, everyone with a pulse in the DC Universe should strongly suspect that Batman is secretly Bruce Wayne under his cape and cowl.

Why then it was presented as a surprise in Forever Evil #7 and the previous issue of Justice League that Luthor knows that Bruce Wayne is really Batman, I can't even imagine.

Let's dispose of the Power Ring business first. "Jessica Cruz of Earth" is in her home, which she hasn't left in four years. Like most paranoid shut-ins who haven't left their houses in four years, Jessica has the fit, firm, slim, sexy body of your average Hollywood actress or professional model, he heair looks great, and she's even wearing make-up and nail polish.
The ring knows everything about her, and proves it by expositing at her in Lantern-like dialogue bubbles (which are in the shape of the GL symbol, although slightly bent-up and twisted, not the shape of the four-leaf clover symbol of Power Ring. Julia shoots the talking, glowing ring with a shotgun, but to no avail. It slips onto her finger, giving her maybe the worst costume you could imagine.

Go ahead, close your eyes and try to imagine the worst Power Ring costume you can.

Okay, ready?

Now open them.
Did it look as bad as this? Liar.

The League has been tracking Power Ring's power ring, and, when Superman calls to check in with Batman, he tells him "there's just been a detonation of emerald energy" outside of Portland. That's a perfect example of what I love about Johns; he had Superman say "emerald energy" instead of "green energy." That's awesome and dumb at the same time (particularly so given the New 52 DCU's feint toward "realism," as seen in the costumes Superman and Wonder Woman are wearing during the scene where Superman says "emerald energy").

The ring, which repeatedly refers to Jessica as "my puppet" is apparently burning down her apartment building, and summoning scary, demonic-looking energy constructs that are eating emergency responders. And that's where the Doom Patrol comes in:
It looks like the original line-up of the Arnold Drake and Bruno Premiani-created super-team: Elasti-Girl (or -Woman), Robotman (in a too-big jacket and a pair of pants), Negative Man (in a dumb jacket likely meant to recall the Grant Morrison-written version of the characters from...400 years ago), Doctor Niles Caulder (wearing an all-black action suit and totally walking) and Element Woman, last seen on the Justice League roster, although she went missing during Forever Evil.

I'm pretty sure this is Geoff Johns' second Doom Patrol, following one that appeared in this Teen Titans run (all of these guys, plus Beast Boy, Bumblebee and Herald-with-a-new-codename Vox).
But back to Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor.

Wayne has invited Luthor into the room where he keeps his secret entrance to the Batcave in order to convince him that he's not Batman. Bruce sips on a steaming mug of what must be either coffee or hot cocoa (I can't imagine Alfred serving tea out of a coffee mug instead of a tea cup), while Luthor sips an amber-ish liquid from a tumbler with a few ice cubes.
For about three pages, Luthor essentially keeps telling Wayne not to insult his intelligence by denying his Batman (without brining up the very compelling evidence), and Bruce is all like, "Stop playing," until he finally gets up to leave, saying "As much as I'd like to stay here, drink bourbon and take credit for Gotham's Dark Knight, I have tickets to the opera." (So that's bourbon they're drinking? I guess Lex's cup looks right; I wonder why Bruce drinks his steaming hot out of a mug?)

(An aside: Do you know exactly when Lex realized Batman was probably Bruce Wayne? It was in the headquarters of the Crime Syndicate, after Lex had stopped Dick Grayson's heart, diffused the bomb wired into it, and then re-started his heart, saving his life, and he saw how genuinely concerned for Dick Batman was. By the way, did you know that means that Lex Luthor and Catwoman, who were in the room at the same time as Batman when this all happened, know that Dick isn't dead, and yet, according to the last issue of Nightwing, Batman is keeping that secret from Alfred and, apparently, the rest of the Bat-family. He doesn't trust his closest allies and confidants with the fact that Dick is still alive, but Luthor, Catwoman, supervillain Owlman and sundry Justice Leaguers all know that he is. That's kind of weird, isn't it?)

So anyway, Luthor pulls a gun on Bruce Wayne, saying he plans to prove he's Batman, and noting that he felt a slight draft in the room, and smelled stale air. Then Alfred puts a gun to Lex's head. But Lex, using his cat-like reflexes, grabs Alfred's wrist, and pushes the gun away from his temple.

And then, to protect his secret identity as Batman, Bruce Wayne leaps off of a chair and hits Luthor in the sternum with a flying roundhouse kick.
Bruce Wayne, carefully concealing his secret identity.
Luthor fires a round of his "exploding ammunition" at the clock, blowing it up and revealing a stairway. "I'm guessing that doesn't lead to the wine cellar," he says.

"Once Nightwing's identity of Richard Grayson was exposed by the Crime Syndicate, I simply followed the long and murky trail," Lex tells Bruce. "Long murky trail" is a kind of odd way to put the, let's see, one point of separation between Nightwing/Grayson and Bruce Wayne. It is six times more difficult to link Kevin Bacon to any other actor in Hollywood than it is to link Dick Grayson to Batman.

Lex tells Bruce he has no intention of blackmailing him, he only wants to join the Justice League so he can help them prepare for the coming threat that so frightened the Crime Syndicate (i.e. The Anti-Monitor, although Luthor and Batman aren't privy to that, since they didn't read the last page of Forever Evil like we did).

Batman responds by telling Luthor the story of the fable of the scorpion and the frog, but his version includes a violent bat that swoops in to destroy the scorpion before it can sting the frog. Oh Bruce, you add bats to everything!

There are two other scenes between these major threads. In one, Captain Cold visits Lexcorp HQ for a physical, as he is apparently going to join the Justice League with Luthor, as the covers of the past two issues—and a splash page in #30—make clear. That's three pages.

In the other, new recruit Captain Marvel Shazam, brought on by Luthor in the previous issue, complains about how boring monitor duty is to Cyborg. Cy suggests Shazam try using his magic to help them track the power ring, and Shazam says he doesn't know how his magical powers work, but that he would be happy to try. So he puts on his stupid hood, his right eye shoots lightning, and he intones, "Uh, powers of me what I want for the League. ALA-KA-ZAMM!"

And in a blast of mystical lighting, a ping pong table appears, which is "funny" because he just said on the previous page that the League's new satellite HQ could use a ping pong table.
I admit I haven't yet read Geoff Johns and Gary Frank's introduction of the new Captain Marvel character to the New 52-iverse yet—it ran serialized in back-ups in Justice League, and was recently-ish released in a trade collection—so I actually have little to no idea what his powers are or how they work, but I just sort of assumed he would still have the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles and the speed of Mercury, but I guess he also has the ability to summon ping pong tables as well (Maybe one of those A's in "Shazam!" now stands for, and he has the ability to order anything he so desires?).

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Comic shop comics: June 25

Adventures of Superman #14 (DC Comics) I really like the opening story, by writer Max Landis and artist Jock, in which Superman meets The Joker for the very first time (in this story, anyway; the stories in Adventures are all continuity-lite, and tend to be evergreen ones from a time when Superman wore a Superman costume, rather than the Superman-branded suit of nanotech armor he wears in the New 52 line of comics).

It's a 20-page story in which Superman confronts The Joker, who thinks he has Superman's full attention because he's hidden seven bombs all around Metropolis, and the two characters basically just talk to each other for 17 pages. The Joker rails against Superman for being generic, for being boring, for being a blank slate, for lacking the edge and style and realism of Batman (so yeah, it gets pretty meta), while Superman diffuses The Joker with a myriad of harsh verbal shut-downs, many of which are quite surprising (laughing at his jokes, for example, or shrugging when The Joker suggests that Superman never kills: "Batman doesn't kill people because he has a code. I don't have a code. I just don't generally kill people.")

Honestly, I see-saw between finding the story trite and too cutesy, and thinking it brilliant. Either way, it's definitely the best Superman/Joker story I've read, and a damn good meditation on both characters, one that also happens to be short enough to slot into any future greatest story collections featuring either The Joker or Superman. The last three pages, involving a much angrier confrontation with Batman, seems almost out of place, and makes for a weird epilogue.

Landis' story is certianly improved by Jock, who draws Superman only in tight close-ups, as often of some iconic element of his costume as of his eyes, or as a floating, mysterious figure. There's a nice page in which he draws The Joker in a variety of famous takes...
...and while that's nice and showy, his work on the rest of the story is even more excellent, on account of how much more subtle it is. I really liked this story a whole lot.

The back-up story is written by Fabian Nicieza, pencilled by Phil Hester and inked by Eric Gapstur, and is a much funnier idea than the comic itself turns out to be: Clark Kent has to babysit Sugar and Spike, and, when the Atomic Skull attacks STAR Labs, he must bring the babies toddlers into action with him.
I'm a big fan of Hester's art, and I really like his Clark and Superman, but Sheldon Mayer he's not, and Mayer's characters don't quite look or feel right when adapted into Hester's style.

Aquaman #32 (DC) Can I go on record as saying I really rather like the idea of the "Bombshell Variant" covers? Because I really rather do. I know DC is doing a set of prints or something, but I do hope they publish a comic book format, stapled collection of the covers (which I highly doubt they will, but still, I hope, because I sure wouldn't mind owning these, but I'll be damned if I'm going to read all the shitty comics they happen to appear on).

Anyway, this issue of Aquaman had one on it, featuring Mera appearing on what appears to be a postcard from Atlantis. I don't really like the slightly out-of-focus nature of it though, which I think is meant to represent a photograph of an old postcard...? Or they printed them poorly. I don't know.

Anyway—nice cover!

The insides are less notable. I guess the story in the previous issue continued into an issue of Swamp Thing, which I didn't read, so I'm unclear on how the title character got from Point A to Point C.

The mad science monster being created on Triton Base escapes—surprise!—and attacks Aquaman. Mera and Tula beat the shit out of a bunch of would-be assassins, and Mera intimidates one into talking by threatening to have him eaten alived (Man, everyone's a Batman, no one's a Superman). And two dudes get their faces ripped off, while two more are melted alive by some kind of super-powerful biological acid. I also read two comics written by Geoff Johns this week, and neither are anywhere near as violent or gory as this one, so...good job...Jeff Parker...?

Paul Pelletier's art, inked by Sean Parsons and Rick Magyar, is nice, although I think his Chimera is too scary. I don't like looking at it, especially in close-up, as it appears on the title splash page.

This issue, like at least a few others that were released this week, also contains a six-page preview to the rather dumb-looking Grayson series by this issue's artist and Batman Eternal #12 consulting writer Tim Seeley (based on what I saw in the last issue of Nightwing and this preview, anyway). Dick Grayson has faked his own death, and Batman is keeping the fact that Grayson isn't really dead from Alfred so that Dick can dye his hair blond and infiltrate Spyral until Grayson get canceled.

I really liked the last panel though:
Oh shit, Emma Frost is going to call in Maksim Chmerkovskiy, the bad boy of ballroom himself!

Batman Eternal #12 (DC) After the previous issue, featuring the artwork of Ian Bertram, this issue looks positively prosaic, despite the fact that Mikel Janin's artwork (colored by Jeromy Cox) looks fine (Pretty nice cover by Guillem March, featuring a nice variation on the classic, knee-up pose Jim Lee put his Batman in, but boy oh boy, I don't think anyone can make Batman's New 52 bat-knee pads look non-idiotic).

The plot for this issue, scripted by James Tynion IV, is mostly a bunch of forward steps of many different sub-plots: Gotham Police officers Jason Bard, Maggie Sawyer and Harvey Bullock conspire to fight the Falcone/Penguin gang war that their corrupt Commissioner won't let them address (by recruiting unlikely allies), Red Hood and Batgirl search for evidence to clear James Gordon, Gordon's trial starts, Batman wears a disguise over his costume (which is always funny) to visit Gordon, Harper Row hacks into Red Robin's holographic wrist computer system thing and Tim Drake meets Julia Pennyworth.

There's a surprise appearance on the last page, and it's sort of unfortunate that the character is appearing in a story with Jason Bard, as the two look almost identical; Janin distinguishes them slightly by giving Bard a bit of stubble, but man, with different artists every issue, I can forsee this being a problem. One of them should have grown a beard or something.

Batman '66 (DC) Artist Dario Brizuela joins Jeff Parker for the lead story, in which Batman and Robin face Marsha, Queen of Diamonds, who has hired an honest-to-goodness witch—pointy-black hat, bubbling cauldron, the whole nine yards—to help her steal the biggest diamond of all, the Bat-diamond in the Batcave.

In the back-up, the writing team of Art Baltazar and Franco draw a story featuring The Minstrel, with artist Ted Naifeh drawing...and so subverting his own style that I didn't realize it was Naifeh until I read the credits on the last page (and even then to see Naifeh in the art; maybe a bit around Octavia's eyes, and around Robin's ears in that one panel...?). As with every story I read that Baltazar and Franco write that Baltazar doesn't draw, I find myself wishing he would have drawn this himself; i'd love to see what his Batman '66 looks like, as his adult superheroes are generally pretty awesome-looking.

The New 52: Futures End #8 (DC) What's up with the robot-looking thing with the color and design of Superman villain The Parasite on the cover of this issue? No, seriously, what's up with it? I ask because I don't know. It emerges from a hidden temple in Southeast Asia, a temple full of human skeletons, statuary of three-eyed figures, a three-eyed skull engraving, and a big Brainiac symbol.

Also in this issue, stuff happens on Cadmus Island, Lois Lane hires a plane, the masked Superman is kind of a dick to Jason Rusch and a scientist and Hawkman gets his arm cut off—again! (This time it's his left arm though, and he's already dead when it gets cut off).

Scot Eaton pencils this issue, and Drew Geraci inks it.

Saga #20 (Image Comics) Sex, drugs and violence, in that order, in this issue. The sex is on the vanilla side, for this comic, anyway (Fellatio? It may be from a beaver woman, but it's still just fellatio!), but man, that violence sure was shocking.

Secret Origins #3 (DC) Another issue, another couple of origins that have already been told and re-told.

First, there's Green Lantern Hal Jordan's origin, told not too long ago in the pre-Flashpoint Green Lantern story arc "Secret Origin." I don't think it was meant to have changed at all, given that Green Lantern continuity is largely unchanged by the New 52-boot, but this story does seem to indicate that Hal became a Green Lantern before ever working with/for Ferris, and he was a mechanic rather than a test pilot at the time he got the ring. Robert Venditti writes this one, and he does a nice job of defining Hal's life by two aircraft crashes (the one that killed his dad and the one that made him a Green Lantern) and addressing the character's particular relationship with fear. The art by Martin Coccolo is serviceable.

Second, there's the origin of Batwoman, which seems pretty unnecessary, given the fact that anyone reading DC comics for very long has seen the character debut and her story unfold in real-time (She was introduced in 2006, and her much-delayed solo series didn't start until late 2010). In fact, writer Jeremy Haun seems to assume a reader's familiarity with Batwoman's origin, as I have no idea what exactly happened on the first three pages, but they seem to be alluding to a traumatic event in the character's past, likely involving her mom and/or sister.

For the most part, her origin as presented here seems to parallel that of Batman, in slightly different order. After she drops out of the military for being gay, she decides to fight crime as an urban vigilante, and then decides she wants to be a Bat-person. She goes off to travel the world and train (but just for two years), and returns to be a vigilante, helped by a close confidant.

As Infinite Crisis and 52 no longer happened, her origin feels a bit more generic, as she's no longer filling in for a long MIA Batman, as she was in 52 (during the time Batman, Robin and Nightwing all took a year off together, and the Religion of Crime set its sights on Gotham City).

This one's drawn by Trevor McCarthy. It's fine, but the character is so thoroughly associated with J.H. Williams III, that whenever he doesn't draw her comics, they look somehow off.

Finally, there's the origin of Tim "Red Robin" Drake, which was already presented in one of the Batman #0 issues (I forget which title though; I didn't read it, but flipped through it in the shop). His origin, as written by original New 52 Teen Titans writer Scott Lobdell, is drastically different than his original origin.

The way it used to go was that young teenage boy Tim Drake realized that Batman was becoming more and more unhinged after the death of Robin II Jason Todd, and believed that Batman needed a Robin. Having figured out that Batman was Bruce Wayne and Dick Grasyon was Robin-turned-Nightwing, he approached Nightwing and tried to convince him to become Robin again (In "A Lonely Place of Dying"). Dick refused, but, after a period of apprenticeship in the Batcave, mostly doing computer-stuff, Drake finally put on a Robin costume and saved Batman's ass from The Scarecrow, getting the gig. Since his world-travelling, neglectful parents were attacked by The Obeah Man, with his mother killed and his dad in a coma, he moved in with Bruce Wayne for a while, until his dad got better, and he eventually moved to a house next door. He's Batman's partner until about the time of Batman's death in Final Crisis, at which point Damian officially becomes Robin to Grayson's Batman.

Here, Lobdell's Drake is a brilliant gymnast bent on discovering Batman's secret identity as a challenge and, when he does, he wants to apply for the job of Robin. Obviously, Batman doesn't want another Robin to replace the dead-and-not-yet-resurrected-Jason Todd (I still don't know how that happened in The New 52), but after Tim fucks with the Penguin and gets his house attacked, his parents get sent into witness protection (the fuck?) and Tim gets sent to live with Bruce Wayne (um...what?), where he gets offered the job of Robin...and refuses, choosing instead to be Red Robin. He quits being Red Robin after what must have only been like six months or so, given the New 52 compressed timeline, in order to go be in The Teen Titans.

Why he chooses to wear the shittiest costume ever is never explained.

Obviously, this changes Tim Drake's relationship to Batman quite a bit, and he becomes a hero not out of concern for Batman/Bruce Wayne, but more so to fill out his resume. He's not altruistic so much as thrill-seeking, and takes up the mantle because it interests him at the time, and only wears it until something more interesting comes up: Being on the dumb-ass, New 52 Teen Titans.

It also knocks just about everything from about 1989-2008 out-of-continuity, even jacking up stories that are supposedly still in-continuity, like Grant Morrison's Batman continuity (Or, to be more precise, it radically retcons everything from that period; the half-assed nature of the New 52-boot wasn't to start over, or to keep the old continuity, just to imply that there is a continuity, but no one really knows what it is—the worst of both worlds!).

Tyler Kirkham draws this story.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Review: Uncanny X-Force: Final Execution Book 1

The sixth and penultimate volume collecting writer Rick Remender's Uncanny X-Force rockets towards its conclusion here, the awkward title indicating that this is indeed the first half of the climactic act of the series.

The team begins to break up, with Betsy having satisfied her sexual curiosity about Fantomex and deciding to quit, and Fantomex following immediately in her foot steps because, it seems, he was mostly hanging around for Besty, anyway.

That leaves just Wolverine, the Nightcrawler who emigrated from the "Age of Apocalypse" setting and Deadpool, who is, in the book's first issue (drawn by Mike McKone) infiltrating a high-end super-weapons dealer. Before long, the three find themselves locked in combat with "The Omega Clan," an Omega Red, an Omega...Black (?) and an Omega...Blue (?), each programmed with memories of X-Force killing their families, for extra motivation.

They are just a couple of the villains in what turns out to be a new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, lead by Wolverine's son Daken, Sabertooth and Mystique, and consisting of villains from throughout the book's run up until this point: The Shadow King, The Blob from Earth-AoA, The Skinless Man and now The Omega Clan. They kidnap Evan/Genesis, the clone of the Apocalypse child Fantomex killed at the end of the first story arc of the series (and who Jason Aaron used as a fairly important member of the ensemble cast of Wolverine and The X-Men), and then they proceed to cut out Fantomex's heart, totally killing him—which makes his sentient UFO friend EVA mutate into humanoid form, so the team is down a member but still has the same number of members. Then the BOEM blow up the UXF's secret HQ, Cavern-X.

Is this the end of our heroes...?


They escape in a rather unusual manner, Psyclocke hijacking Gateway's body to send them all 30 years into a Julian Totino Tedesco-drawn future just before the explosion.

And what a future it is. Apparently, at some point in the near-ish future, Evan/Genesis did end up "ascending" and becoming Apocalypse, Wolverine gathered an army of an X-Force to defeat him, and the terrified world turned to X-Force for safety and order in the aftermath of the world. This futuristic world, complete with flying motorcycles, is now ruled with an iron fist by The Uncanny X-Force—Wolverine, Deadpool, "Magistrate Braddock,"  Frank Castle, Cable and Hope. Oh, and Ant-Man. Some of them even unironically wear Nazi uniforms, only with black armbands with an "X" on them rather than red armbands with swastikas, in case the fact that they've become fascists isn't apparent enough from the script.

Seeing only one way to prevent this terrible nightmare future, where X-Force's philosophy of preemptive striking has been taken to its extreme if logical conclusion (and, incidentally, Fantomex's experiment of nature vs. nurture with Evan has proven to be a failure, and it turns out that bad people really are just born bad), the young Psyclocke tries to take her own life, thus killing old Psylocke. This leads to a rather weird, reversed action sequence, in which the protagonist desperately tries to kill herself, while her enemies race to rescue her.

After two issues of this future, Old X-Force sends Young X-Force back to the present in a time machine operated by Nazi drag Hank Pym, but not before Old Frank Castle offers advice on people they should kill, and Old Wolverine whispers something of great import to Young Wolverine (something we're not privy to...yet).

In addition to McKone and Tedesco, Phil Noto contributes two issues' worth of art to this collection. The three have fairly different styles, but each section is pretty distinct from the other; McKone draws a section mostly set in a bright super-weapons shop, Noto draws the middle section in which The Brotherhood moves against X-Force and Evan/Genesis and Tedesco draws the section set in the future.

In this second-to-last book of Remender's run, he assembles a sort of villain team of greatest hits villains, sets them upon our heroes from all sides and has them racking up some pretty big wins (killing Fantomex and Gateway, taking Genesis from the Jean Grey School, destroying Ultimation and Cavern-X). He then sends our protagonists to a dystopian future for a last-minute gut-check, before they return in the seventh and final volume for the climax of the series.

Who will win? The good guys or the bad guys? (Or, in this series, I guess it's the Pragmatic-but-Haunted Guys Willing to do Bad for the Greater Good, or the bad guys?)

I can't wait to find out.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Review: Uncanny X-Force: Otherworld

Following "The Dark Angel Saga," which spanned the previous two collections of the Rick Remender-written Uncanny X-Force, this is the second consecutive story arc in which the black-ops team of mutant assassins travel to an alternate dimension, and the second consecutive story arc which heavily rewards familiarity with the ins and outs of X-Men continuity.

The previous volume, The Dark Angel Saga Book 2, marked a major turning point in the series, as 1.) Angel/Archangel/Warren Worthington died and was reborn sans his memory (and thus left the team), 2.) the Nightcrawler from the world of Age of Apocalypse joined the team in order to hunt down and kill a few of his enemies from his world that escaped into the main Marvel Universe and, 3.) the fact that Fantomex has secretly been growing and training a clone of the Apocalypse-to-be little kid he killed in the first story arc was finally out in the open.

It also ended with Captain Britain and some other Captain Britains emerging from a portal and kidnapping Fantomex.

That's where this fifth collected volume of the series opens, with a four-issue story drawn by Greg Tocchini.

Apparently Psylocke's brother is Captain Britain, who currently leads the Captain Britain Corps, a vast army of Captain Britains from many different dimensions based in Otherworld, a fantasy realm filled with various cliched fantasy elements like castles, dragons, wizards and suchlike. Her other brother, a reformed sometimes-villain, is also there, and helping out the cause of...Captain Britain-ing, a family business the Braddock boys would really like their sister Betsy "Psylocke" Braddock to get in on.

So they kidnap her and Fantomex, who they want to put on trial for his killing of the kid who would grow up to be Apocalypse. Verdict? Guilty. Punishment? Death.

Otherworld's got other problems too though, as there is a big war involving a goat-headed wizard trying to lead his army of Lord of the Rings monsters into Captain Britain HQ in order to gain access to the multiverse. Weapon Plus program alum Weapon III, The Skinless Man, is there and seeking revenge on Fantomex for flaying him alive (he reciprocates by cutting off Fantomex's face). Wolverine, Deadpool and Nightcrawler arrive to fight the forces of The Goat. And there is a rather bitterly ironic nature to the threat to Otherworld, which puts the Braddock siblings in the same place Fantomex was in when he decided to pop the Apocalypse kid, and they choose the same path that Captain Britain and his Corps were ready to kill Fantomex for taking.

While I'm pretty unfamiliar with the Braddock family soap opera, this is another tightly-plotted story arc by Remender, who has been remarkably consistent at sticking to the central theme of this book (which is at this point almost two years into its existence), whether or not doing something bad to prevent something worse is okay or not, and, even if it is okay, how that might wear on those who do those things. This whole super-team may consist of people with fairly huge body counts, but as cool as Wolverine might make stabbing people seem, Remender has effectively made the taking of lives for good seem like a depressing, soul-crushing burden.

Also, he provides Tocchini with a bunch of weird, cool shit to draw.

Tocchini's illustrator-like, almost painterly style is a sharp departure from much of the art that's preceded it on this book, but then, there hasn't really been a consistent look to Uncanny X-Force since its first issues. The dark gray and black garbed heroes of X-Force stand in sharp contrast to the bright red, white, blue and gold of the Captain Britain Corps and the earthy colored creatures of Otherworld.

There are two more comic books contained in this volume. There's the done-in-one "Frozen Moment," drawn by Phil Noto. This issue is split between Wolverine and Deadpool's attempt to help AoA Nightcrawler kill AoA Iceman, and the aftermath of the events of "Otherworld," as Psyclocke and Fantomex attend a funeral and finally enter into a physical relationship Fantomex has been pushing for since the book started. It's hard to believe that Betsy could look at Fantomex after seeing his face cut off, let alone sleep with him, but I suppose that's why she's a superhero and I'm not.

Finally, there's Uncanny X-Force #19.1, by Remender and artist Billy Tan. I was actually quite surprised to find it in the back of this book just now, as I didn't read it a few weeks ago when I first read this collection, nor do I remember it even being there. I suspect I was reading this late at night, got all the way up to the end of the relevant story, and then stopped reading. And then moved on to the next story without returning to this volume to read #19.1.

I didn't read it just now, either. It's entitled "Ghost Reunion," and doesn't feature any member of Uncanny X-Force in any capacity, so I'm not entirely sure what it's doing in this collection. It's a story set in the "Age of Apocalypse" setting, where Dark Angel Saga Book 1 was set, and ends with the tag "TO BE CONTINUED IN AGE OF APOCALYPSE" so I assume it is a prequel to the short-lived Age of Apocalypse monthly series, trying to lure the Uncanny X-Force audience into checking out that series.

Well there goes my to-do list.

I arrived home from running some errands this afternoon planning to get so much writing done today, and then what do I find waiting outside my apartment door but a package containing all this: All of the original Mirage trade paperbacks collecting Eastman and Laird's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that I don't already own (save one), the last handful of issues from the original volume of their comic that I've never read, the final 3/4ths of the Flaming Carrot crossover I read the first issue of in the early'90s and never finished and a trade paperback collection of Paleo, one of Jim Lawson's dinosaur comics.

I have a feeling it's going to be very, very difficult to get too far down my to-do list of writing I had planned on today with those comics just sitting there, begging to be read. (By the way, if you have holes in your Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles collection, this is where I ordered this awesome but frustrating package from; I was quite surprised that I could get all of 'em as cheap and in such good condition).

I'll try and post a new review later tonight, and it's a safe bet you'll read a lot of me talking Turtles here on EDILW in the weeks to come.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Comic shop comics: June 4-18

Batman Eternal #9 (DC Comics) It's another Guillem March and Tomeu Morey issue, meaning it's another of the better-looking issues of the series so far. In this John Layman-scripted installment, Catwoman continues to cause problems for The Roman in Gotham, ultimately getting herself captured by him, while Batman investigates The Roman's recent dealings in Hong Kong. And by "investigates" I mean "just fights a bunch of guys."

That's actually a lot more fun than it sounds, as he gets help from The Batman of Japan, from the pages of the late, great Batman Inc (seen on the cover with The Super Young Team's Shy Young Lolita Canary—simply referred to as "Canary" within—fighting the lame, New 52 version of The Ghost Dragons), and the two Batmen ride their Bat-planes to Jiro's Batcave, which comes complete with his own wizened old man who serves him tea and his own, culturally appropriate version of dinosaur statue:
I'm a huge fan of the world-building Grant Morrison has done on...pretty much everything he's done for DC Comics, so it's a pleasure to see Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV and Team Eternal making use of many of those additions (speaking of which, Snyder-creation Roadrunner also appears in this issue).

There's a pretty big reveal in the last panel, regarding the identity of the mysterious British lady seen climbing a skyscraper in a cat-suit in the last panel of #8, which I won't spoil here, but will in a few more sentences.

Batman Eternal #10 (DC) The bulk of this issue, drawn by Riccardo Burchielli and still scripted by John Layman, involves Catwoman's captor, Carmine "The Roman" Falcone, being captured by Professor Pyg and his frankly rather horrifying "Farm Hands," human beings with animal heads apparently sewn on:
Not sure how that chicken-headed guy even works, biologically, but I suppose a man brandishing farming implements whose body is powered by the brain of a chicken is about as scary as you can get. Wanting revenge on Falcone for blowing up his lab in an earlier issue, Pyg kills his way into Falcone's pad, holds the gangster and the cat-burglar hostage as he prepares to perform some surgery on them, until Batman appears to save the day.

There are two bits of sup-plot momentum here, as Alfred Pennyworth is reunited with his long-lost (to the Crisis On Infinite Earths, I believe) daughter, now a sort of secret agent for Britain, and we find out where Stephanie Brown's been hiding out. I'm not a fan of Burchielli's artwork here, especially coming as it does right after personal favorite March's, but he certainly does a nice job in making the scary Farm Hands scary.

Batman Eternal #11 (DC) While the cover shows Scorpiana (another character from Morrison's time on the Bat-books) furiously scissoring Batgirl, the interior artwork quite literally looks nothing like that; the designs of both ladies, as well as the style of their rendering, is about as different as can be. It is also awesome, but having already extolled the virtues of Ian Bertram's art at (too?) great length at Robot 6 this week, I suppose I should just link to that piece rather than rant and rave about him some more here.

Suffice it to say that it's probably the best-looking issue of the series so far, and certainly the most wild and visually interesting, Bertram being an ideal candidate to follow in the footsteps of artists like Frank Quitely and Chris Burnham when it comes to drawing Batman adventures (Say, where is Burnham at the moment? Shouldn't he be drawing...whatever he wants for DC?). Bertram is maybe the most highly-stylized, idiosyncratic artist to draw a regular issue of an ongoing, in-continuity Batman book since Kelley Jones, and needs a showcase original graphic novel or miniseries of his own ASAP.

As for the plot, this one checks in with various father/daughter relationships among the cast. Batgirl journeys to Rio De Janiero to try and clear her father's name, which means rescuing a telenovela star from The Club of Villains' Scorpiana (with assists from some unlikely characters, all of whom look awesomely unique as rendered by Bertram). Catwoman reads a letter in the pouring rain of a cemetery. Stephanie Brown learns about her father, Cluemaster. And Alfred and Julia have a conversation, in which she expresses her extreme disappointment with him for abandoning his former career of stitching up soldiers in order to work for Bruce Wayne. That last bit is more emotional than I expected; I was invested enough to read it and think to myself, "Oh, if you only knew, Julia!"

Maybe Julia Pennyworth will be the next Robin! (Ha ha no, it's going to be a resurrected Damian, I'm sure.)
This was by far my favorite issue so far, mostly because of the art, but it's well-written as well...even if it has my least favorite Bat-family character of all (Red Hood, of course, who Bertram manages to draw in a way that reminded me of Kevin O'Neill's superhero work).

Batman '66 Meets The Green Hornet (DC/Dynamite) Believe me when I say this isn't meant to be insulting at all, but one of the best things about this comic, which is co-written by Kevin Smith and Ralph Garman, is that you can't tell that it's written by Kevin Smith at all. A comic book based on a show—well, a pair of shows—with a very particular tone, Batman '66 doesn't really leave much room for a writer to insert too much of their own personalities, and, if they do, it would easily implode the rather delicate imitation that's necessary to get the comic over. But the various weakness of Smith's comics-writing one might be familiar with—the no-brow potty and gay panic humor, the wordiness—none of that's here. Smith and Garman, like the more seasoned comics writer Jeff Parker, who writes the ongoing Batman '66 series, doe a pretty pitch perfect impression of the show, with little more than a hint of self-awareness.

Bruce Wayne is accompanying a shipment of "priceless fossils" from the Gotham Museum of Natural History on a train headed for Green Hornet's hometown. On the train, he meets his old friend Britt Reid, and Reid's valet Kato. While the two secret identities banter a bit, making fun of one another's alter-egos, their previous foe attacks the train, and the men excuse themselves to secretly slip into their work clothes.

Ty Templeton, a great cartoonist and great comics artist whose work I don't get to see on the printed page nearly as much as I like, handles the art chores, and it's good stuff, although the fact that he draws Adam West so on-model somewhat unnerves me. Alex Ross, whose been conspicuously absent from DC of late (where was Ross when they were redesigning all the costumes?!), provides a fully-painted cover in his familiar photo-realistic style. I would have loved to see what this book might have looked like had it featured Ross-painted interiors, as I think the hyper-real look of his art coupled with the goofy scripting would have matched the high-camp of the television show in a way that no drawn art has been able to accomplish.

Classic Popeye #23 (IDW) Popeye fights some pirates, with no help at all from Wimpy and Olive. Then Popeye and Pappy clean up his ship. And there's a dumb Shermy story. And that's it. I should probably drop this book, which I say to myself about once a month now, but I just can't seem to bring myself to do so.

The Lake Erie Monster #5 (Shiner Comics Group) I'm assuming that this wasn't on the racks of your local comic shop this month, unless your local comic shop is in northeast Ohio (I'm not sure how widely it's distributed, actually; did you guys down in Columbus see it on the shelves of the Ogre or anywheres?). But you can buy it online, if you like. This is the fifth and final issue of writer Jake Kelly and artist John G's horror adventure comic about a Creature From The Black Lagoon-like fish-man rising from the polluted Lake Erie to terrorize 1970s Cleveland, an idea originally inspired by movie posters for movies that don't exist that the creator's engaged in.

In this final issue, the various protagonists all convene at the abandoned Euclid Beach amusement park for a showdown with the monster...s! They prove nigh unkillable, but that doesn't stop our heroes from pumping them full of shotgun shells, hurling molotov cocktails at them and, in one case, pulping one's head with a huge rock. It's all very horror movie, up to and including not-very-good-ideas, like seeking refuge from a monster engulfed in flames in a hall of mirrors or climbing up the rails of a roller coaster to escape one. Not to mention the The movie might be over, but the horror is still out there, in case we want to do a sequel ending.

John G's thick lines and ink-heavy art have reminded me of early Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles art, especially the stuff by Kevin Eastman and/or Eric Talbot, an aesthetic only furthered by the grungy, urban environments and the lettering. As with previous issues, the book is chockablock with ads (there are 31 story pages, counting the introduction and "Commodore's Cleveland" feature starring the horror host character The Commodore, and 11 pages of ads, all for local businesses and drawn by the creators. Some are rather unfortunately placed between story pages).

I enjoyed reading it in this format, although I sincerely hope a publisher out there notices this series and decides to reprint it in trade paperback format. I think its earned an audience beyond the regional one it's so far enjoyed.

The New 52: Futures End #5 (DC) Of DC's two weekly series, this is the bad one, but I haven't been able to tear myself away from it yet—or tear it out of my pull-list, to be more accurate. I'm curious about where it's all going, and just plain love the weekly comics format. It's not great comics, no, and it's not always good comics either, but it's relatively cheap (i.e. it's not $3.99) and it's not as bad as a lot of the publisher's New 52 line.

Jesus Merino and Dan Green are this week's art team, while the writing credits remain unchanged as always (and this time Keith Giffen does not get an art consultant credit).

In this issue, the slightly sinister, awfully douchey Mister Terrific launches his new product, the uSphere, which I guess is a sort of combination T-sphere and iPhone, via a live product announcement which various characters we've been introduced to watch intently. As does two we haven't seen yet, the Batman and Alfred Pennyworth of the year 2019.

King Faraday talks to Grifter about his plans for him. Earth 2's Fury, the daughter of that world's Wonder Woman, tries to escape her prison on Cadmus Island, tearing apart the OMAC guards, only to be stopped by a mysterious little girl. Firestorm finally breaks up. And a guy named Tommy and a lady named Midge bring John Constantine to look at a Brainiac symbol-shaped crop circle in Kansas.

The New 52: Futures End #6 (DC) Patrick Zircher steps up to bat as the artist, and the various plots all move incrementally forward! New 52 Key, Plastique and Coil plan a heist of Terrifitech, which Batman Beyond spies on, as he wants to get in there to totally kill Mr. Terrific. Father Time sends Agents of SHADE Ray Palmer, Amethyst and Frankenstein to investigate the death of StormWatch, via a shortcut through The Phantom Zone, where they unexpectedly encounter Black Adam. And Lois Lane confronts bearded Tim Drake and his new girlfriend after closing time in the bar that Drake, now going by the name "Cal Corcoran," manages.

You know, I didn't really realize this until I saw him taking a drunk, randy, rowdy Ronnie Raymond out using martial arts in this issue, but this plotline is essentially Tim Drake faking his own death and pretending to be Patrick Swayze in Road House, which is actually a pretty fantastic premise (although here the road house is a lame bar in a strip mall called "The Wounded Duck").

The mysterious, masked Superman shows up to warn Faraday not to mess with Lois Lane, which I suppose is mean to suggest that the mysterious, masked Superman is "our" Superman, who Tom Bondurant reminds us must still be around in 2019, if he's going to be made into a monster OMAC/Deathlok cyborg in time for the events of Futures End #0, which Batman Beyond went back to 2019 in order to prevent.

The New 52: Future's End #7 (DC) Well it's about time. No one has lost a limb in issues. Does it even count when Frankenstein gets his arms ripped off though, given that he an always just sew new arms on...? I like that it is Black Adam who disarms him though, as Black Adam previously tore the arms off of Young Frankenstein in that shitty World War III comic. (Remember that? Here were the highlights.) Anyway, the agents of SHADE finally arrive at the crime scene where StormWatch is floating around dead in space, and it looks like they really are all least Midnighter, Mermaid, Jack Hawksmoor and Hawkeye all look pretty dead.

Of greatest note this Aaron Lopresti-penciled, Art Thibert-inked issue is that we finally get a name for that little girl on Cadmus Island, "Fifty Sue" (Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Get it? Ah ha. I'm gonna guess Brian Azzarello gets the high-five for that one?), and Batman Beyond is confronted by Mr. Terrific, which one would expect to be just what BB wants, since he's come back in time to kill him and all, but, instead, BB runs away, leaving Mr. T. with the stowaway OMAC/Deathlok from the future, which seems to give Mr. T. ideas. Time travel sure is stupid.

She-Hulk #5 (Marvel Entertainment) What's this? A She-Hulk/Superior Foes of Spider-Man crossover...? Not quite, but not not in the same ballpark, as writer Charles Soule and guest artist Ron Wimberly send She-Hulk to the apartment of Superior Foe Herman Schultz, AKA The Shocker (and, like Superior Foes, She-Hulk has thus far managed a light, comedic tone).

Our heroine Hulk is investigating the mysterious "blue file," a case in which someone named George Saywitz sued a whole bunch of super-powered people in North Dakota, including She-Hulk, but she has absolutely no knowledge of or memory of the case. The Shocker is another defendant named in the case, as is Tigra, who Shulkie's new employee Patsy Walker, Hellcat goes to interview, and her paralegal (and her paralegal's monkey) go to North Dakota to look for paper records pertaining to the case.

So it's a whole lot of legal legwork in the might Marvel manner!

Actually, there is quite a lot of action, as when Patsy says "George Saywitz" aloud, it acts as some sort of trigger word, makaing Tigra go crazy and try to murder her in a brutal cat fight. As for the Shulkie/Shocker interaction, after Herman initially tries to run, they basically just sit down and share Chinese food, and have an interesting heart-to-heart (page 16 is pretty priceless).

With Wemberly drawing, this issue looks nothing like the previous, Javier Pulido-drawn issues, but that's A-OK, as Wemberly is an incredibly interesting artist in his own right. The panels are drawn almost exclusively in weird, extreme angles, often from very high or very low, to the point that many sequences made me nostalgic for those old Aeon Flux shorts that used to run on MTV's Liquid Television, back when I was still young and vital and had long, flowing hair on my head. Color artist Rico Renzi does bright, poppy, flat work akin to that of regular colorist Munsta Vicente, making some very interesting choices, like the pink sky above New York City in the Patsy/Tigra scenes.

In addition to not being drawn by Pulido, this is the first issue that isn't really standalone. I mean, it's not impenetrable if you read it by itself or anything, but, unlike the first few issues, it's not a complete story unto itself, but a plot-carrying piece, as the sub-plot hinted at and teased in the earlier issues finally comes to the fore.

She-Hulk is still good, but, better yet, it's unexpectedly good.

SpongeBob Comics #33 (United Plankton Pictures) This issue continues the first multi-issue narrative of the series so far, in which writer Derek Drymon sends SpongeBob to Shady Shoals retirement home to learn about the first encounter between his hero Mermaid Man and new hero Viro Reganto, the Esperanto-speaking sea king (Drymon draws the present bits, in the usual SpongeBob style, while Jerry Ordway draws the flashbacks, in his superhero style). Perhaps reflecting the old-school superhero shenanigans of this storyline, the cover reflects those of some old DC crossover comics.

I kind of love the arrogant Reganto character, and I particularly enjoy the Esperanto-sprinkled dialogue.

That's but one of the stories in this issue of, course. There's also a Joey Weiser/Jacob Chabot story in which Gary goes off to camp, a Brian Smith story in which SpongeBob and Patrick visit Sandy, a 10-page story in which Larry the Lobster must defend his beach from invading jellyfish, two pages worth of James Kochalka strips, a Maris Wicks "Flotsam and Jetsam" educational strip about jellyfish and a really rather lovely Ramona Fradon back cover pin-up, featuring Viro Reganto autographing various love-struck female sea creatures.

SpongeBob Comics Annual-Size Super-Giant Swimtacular #2 (United Plankton Pictures) Hey, remember last year when I wondered aloud whether United Plankton Pictures were going to publish their annual annually, or do something goofy like DC and Marvel, and publish them whenever, or with the year in the title so they can use a #1 every year...? Well, now we've got our answer.

As with the previous Swimtacular, this one is all superhero-related stories, one of which I plan on discussing with you at greater length in the near future. In the mean time, suffice it to say this issue features work from creators as various as Israel Sanchez, Mark Martin, Jay Lender, Paul Karasik and SpongeBob regulars R. Sikoryak, James Kochalka and Jacob Chabot. I really enjoyed the work by Sanchez, who drew the adorable cover, as he's an artist I'm unfamiliar with, and whose work is super-cute, while somewhat suggesting that of occasional SpongeoBob contributor Stephen DeStefano (Now please stop reading this post and click on "Israel Sanchez" above and look at all his amazing work. Wow.)

The Superior Foes of Spider-Man #12 (Marvel) And Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber are back, and the book is back on track. Boomerang is able to convince his erstwhile allies who aren't The Shocker to join him on a new heist, stealing back the painting he stole from The Owl for The Owl, who was helpful enough to fund The Sinister Sixteen:
Hey, it's Bi-Beast! I was just talking about that guy!

I can't really decide what my favorite part of this issue was. I really liked the bit where Hammerhead struggled not to slip into talking like James Cagney when he got excited, but then the bit where Overdrive uses his super-weird powers to create a Segway was pretty great too. And that's not even considering the George Herriman homage or the panel with the Lenin mummies on it.

Anyway, Superior Foes remains one of the only comics I like so much I'm willing to pay $3.99 for it, even though I know in my heart I should probably just wait for the trade.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles In Time #1 (IDW) And hey, speaking of $3.99 books I know I should trade-wait, but can't help but buy on the day of release, here's a new TMNT comic, drawn by EDILW-favorite Ross Campbell. This is the other book I raved about at Robot 6 this week, and thus should probably shut up about at this point. It's drawn by Campbell, written by Paul Allor, colored by Bill Crabtree, and features the ninja turtles running around dinosaur times, fighting awesome feathered dinosaurs and/or Utroms, because Renet (Or, as the headline to Chris Sims' review at Comics Alliance puts it, "Turtles In Time #1 has ninja turtles riding dinosaurs to fight brains in robot suits, all other comics inferior by definition").

Seriously, this issue is 100% pure comics, and tt he only thing I don't like about it is...the font on the "Turtles In Time" logo.That, and I'm not sure if Campbell is drawing the rest of the series or not.