Thursday, July 31, 2014


I have a review of Bryan Lee O'Malley and company's Seconds in this week's issue of Las Vegas Weekly. Spoiler: I liked it a whole lot.

I also have a review of Jeffrey Brown's Good Night, Darth Vader and Star Wars: Jedi Academy: Return of the Padawan at Robot 6 today. Those are both pretty good in their own ways, too. I thought Good Night the least good of the three Vader cartoon books, though.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Re: The lack of movies featuring female superheroes

 Johansson, in her most famous comic book role.
Even after suffering a few bombs over the past 15 years or so, Hollywood's current love affair with the superhero movie continues unabated. If anything, the films seem to be coming out more and more frequently, sometimes starring more and more obscure characters. I mean, this year we've already seen movies featuring Captain America, Spider-Man and The X-Men, and next weekend a movie featuring a tree monster created in a 1960 one-off monster comic by Jack Kirby, Stan Lee and Dick Ayers and a talking space raccoon created by Bill Mantlo and Keith Giffen in 1976 as part of its ensemble cast will open. And those are just the films starring characters derived from Marvel comics that have opened since April of this year.

As prevalent as films starring superheroes may be, however, it's been a long time since anyone has even tried to make one featuring a female superhero. We can probably thank the box-office receipts and critical excoriation of 2004's Catwoman and 2005's Elektra for that...but, on the other hand, it's not like 2003's Daredevil or 2011's Green Lantern scared studios away from male superhero. Worst case scenario (Ang Lee's 2003 Hulk?), they just re-cast and reboot the character and his film.

The lack of female superheroes in the movies is a pretty regular topic of conversation on the Internet among many fans of superheroes, comic books, movies and movies based on comic book superheroes, and I imagine if anyone stops to think about it, the fact that there will be an Ant-Man movie in theaters before a Wonder Woman movie has just gotta boggle their minds.

Johansson, in her most most famous comic book role.
In light of this, I found this particular story on NPR to be particularly interesting. "Hercules may have slayed a lion and a nine-headed Hydra beast, but he was no match for Scarlett Johansson this week," host Audie Cornish began the piece, noting that sci-fi movie Lucy, starring Marvel's Black Widow Johansson, out-performed Hercules at the box-office this weekend, defying expectations (Fun fact: While Hercules is indeed a public domain character, and probably the most public domain of all super-powered heroes, that movie was also based on a comic book, Radical Publishing's Hercules: The Thracian Wars).

The title of the piece is "Box Office Wallows in a Summer Slump, And Some Seek To Find Out Why," and in it, Cornish interviews Paul Dergarabedian, "a senior media analyst with RENTRAK, a company that measures TV and movie viewing."

Apparently, box office receipts are down 20-percent this year compared to last summer.

During the course of their conversation, Cornish asks Dergarabedian who it is that was buying movie tickets last summer that are skipping out on going to the movies this summer. Dergarabedian answers:
Well, I think the ones who've been skipping out a little bit are the 18 to 24-year-old males who have been the bread-and-butter of the summer movie season for decades. And now it seems that Hollywood should be chasing the younger females or the female audience in general. If you look at "Maleficent," "The Fault In Our Stars," "Tammy" and most recently "Lucy," you have female protagonists leading these movies and these are the titles that have actually been doing very well and not underperforming like so many others.
So do you think that means we'll be seeing Wonder Woman, Catwoman, Supergirl, Batgirl, Batwoman, Harley Quinn, Black Widow, Rogue, Storm, She-Hulk, Ms. Marvel or Spider-Woman movies any time soon? Or at least a Sif and The Warriors Three movie, starring the Thor franchise's second bananas? (Thor's Asgardian sidekicks are all more entertaining to watch in those movies than he is, just as Kat Denning's character is more interesting than Natalie Portman's).

Johansson, in her most famous comic book role.
Well, maybe if male superhero movies continue to underperform the way this year's Amazing Spider-Man 2 did (and do note that it made a fuckload of money, with a $91.6 million opening weekend, it just made a smaller fuckload of money than 2013's Iron Man 3 did, with it's $174.1 million opening weekend), but that's probably not going to happen. Dergarabedian predicts that next year is going to be the biggest summer ever thanks to Avengers: Age of Ultron and Jurassic World, and there's new James Bond, Terminator and Mad Max movies, plus a Pixar movie and a Despicable Me spin-off. And Ant-Man. And then there's Star Wars waiting in the wings.

So while this year Hollywood is making somewhat less obscene amounts of profit then they would have liked to—or did last year—and chasing the dollars of the female audience with female protagonists and adaptations of female-supported source material like Fault In Our Stars might seem like a very sound strategy going forward, unless there are some unexpected bombs in the sequels and prequels next summer, I guess it will probably remain business as usual for the forseeable future.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Review: Guardians of The Galaxy Vol. 2: Angela

In an attempt to convert interest in a major motion picture into comics sales, Marvel seems to be pretty aggressively reprinting anything even tangentially related to the characters starring in the upcoming Guardians of The Galaxy movie, and launching three new Guardians-related series this year, in addition to the ongoing monthly Guardians book.

I wish anyone who likes what they've seen of the movie Guardians thus far and decides to see what the comics offer the best of luck in trying to sort out what to read in which order,  and I hope they find the experience an enjoyable one. The current ongoing monthly series, the one written by Brian Michael Bendis, kinda sorta began in the pages of Avengers Assemble in a storyline that has since been released as a collection simply entitled Avengers Assemble (a title which is a pretty common one for books featuring the Avengers).

Three collections of Bendis' Guardians of The Galaxy series have been released thus far. The first, Guardians of The Galaxy Vol. 1: Tomorrow's Avengers was kind of a mess. It featured five comics. A special "#0.1" prequel issue that told the origin of Peter "Star-Lord" Quill, the first three issues of the series and the one-shot Guardians of the Galaxy: Tomorrow's Avengers, which featured short, solo-ish stories featuring the various characters all drawn by different artists and joining/re-joining Quill's team. Read in book form, it's borderline incoherent, as it is essentially three different beginnings to a story that never gets going, and while there's a lot of talent involved in turning Bendis's scripts into good-looking comics, it's hard to imagine a more inconsistent-looking book.

Here's the credits page, for an idea of how many artists were involved in just those first five Bendis-written, Guardians of the Galaxy-entitled comics:
The narrative actually gets harder to follow in the second volume, as the events of the Bendis-written Age of Ultron line-wide crossover event series and the Jonathan Hickman-written Infinity line-wide crossover event series take place between some of the issues collected herein, and each pushes the book in a different direction than the one it seemed to be naturally flowing in (and which Bendis seems to be intending it to go in during the first three issues of the series, collected in the previous volume).

It's possible to read this volume in isolation, without having read Age or Infinity, but I'm unsure how much sense it will make.

This volume collects Guardians of the Galaxy #4-#10, once again by Bendis and a bevy of talented artists. There are some particularly weird credits here though, like a "consultant" one for Neil Gaiman, which comes above that of all the artists involved:
Sara Pichelli is the main artist for the first four of these issues, "with" other artists helping out on two of them. These begin with The Guardians enjoying some down-time in a space-bar, at least until a bar fight breaks out and a bounty-hunter tries to kill Gamora.

After that issue, the next three deal with the mysterious fallout form the "time is broken" climax of Bendis' Age of Ultron, which gave Star-Lord a strange vision and somehow landed Angela, the one-time supporting character from the pages of Image Comics' Spawn that her co-creators writer Neil Gaiman and artist Todd McFarlane have been fighting over in court for years, in the Marvel Universe.

The character is a pretty generic '90s bad girl character, of the sort one might expect Gaiman to be ashamed to have his name attached to. As originally conceived, she was an angel from Heaven (named Angela...Angel-a....GET IT?!) whose mission was to come to Earth and hunt Spawns with a big sword, wearing little more than a metal bra and long ribbons.

As a character, she is most interesting for her behind-the-scenes history, as it involves such important figures in the North American comics industry of the 1990s as Gaiman and MacFarlane, and her introduction into the Marvel Universe is most interesting in that it seems like it has more to do with Gaiman and Marvel getting together to say "Fuck you, Todd MacFarlane" in stereo.

Here the character, who the collection is named after, is largely divorced from her own  pre-existent history. After fighting the Guardians for about two issues, she eventually claims to come from a place called "Heven," where she was being trained to be a hunter, and to have never even been to Earth, although she's heard stories of it (I suppose there's something kind of interesting in the characters' parallel situations; Angela's from Heaven and only heard stories of Earth, while Quill and Tony Stark are from Earth and have only heard stories of Heaven, although Bendis does nothing other than point out that parallel in this volume).

After fighting, capturing, meeting and releasing Angela, the Guardians and their  book then jumps into an Infinity tie-in story, with Francesco Francavilla taking over art and coloring chores. The Guardians attempt to rescue SWORD's Abigail Brand, who Bendis writes exactly like he writes SHIELD's Maria Hill, from the alien-controlled SWORD HQ. Captain America calls on them to join him and The Avengers in...something that apparently happens in Infinity or a tie-in, as after the two Francavilla issues, the story jumps again to some sort of post-Infinity storyline, in which The Guardians, now missing Stark but with Angela apparently on their team, are searching for Thanos.

That last issue is drawn by Kevin Maguire, who is maybe the ideal collaborator for Bendis, given the former's skills with facial expressions and the latter's preference for filling his scripts with panel after panel of talking heads.

All three of the primary artists are incredibly skilled ones, but none of them draw anything at all like one another, and the book's visuals are as scattered as its narrative, which, because it is so dependent on the events of other books, where the plots in some of these individual chapters actually begin and end, scans a bit like a movie with every third twenty-minute chunk excised from the run-time.

It has its pleasures—Bendis' banter, Francavilla drawing the very best Groot ever, the chance to see Maguire drawing a bunch of action scenes—but it's not a terribly coherent work, and I can't imagine anyone new to the property, to Marvel or to comics in general (i.e. the audience that Marvel seem to be targeting with all theses Guardians books) being able to make heads or (raccoon) tails out of it.

It doesn't seem like the title's going to get any easier to follow in the near future either, as the next volume, The Trial of Jean Grey, is a crossover with the X-Men, in which the teenage X-Men from the Silver Age marooned in the present day see their Jean Grey put on trial for crimes she will commit as an adult in the distant past of Marvel continuity.


You know what part I liked the least about this collection?

When the Guardians have finally subdued Angela on the surface of Earth's moon and taken her aboard their ship for interrogation, Quill hears her name and responds with a leer, "From 'Who's The Boss?' Angela? All grown up?"

On Who's The Boss?, "Angela" was the name of the character played by Judith Light, who was 35 when the show debuted and is now 65. I'm assuming the character Quill (and Bendis) meant was Samantha, played by Alyssa Milano, who was 12 when the show started and 21 when it ended and, as anyone who has seen Alyssa Milano since then can attest, grew up to be a particularly lovely woman.

Please note that I did not necessarily know or like Who's The Boss?, which I did not watch on purpose at any point during my life (I was 7 when it debuted, and 16 when it ended, if I did the math right), but I do have access to the Internet, and could thus spend the 10-20 seconds necessary to visit and determine that Milano's character was indeed named Samantha, and it was the grown-up lady on the show who was named Angela.

So what's the no-prize explanation here? In the Marvel Universe's version of Who's The Boss?, the characters played by Milno and Light had one another's names...?


According to, there have only been eighteen issues of this volume of Guardians published so far, but they have 67 covers between them. That is a lot of variant covers.

Here are my two favorite from those included in the gallery in the back of this trade, the first is by Milo Manara and the second is by Skottie Young:

Friday, July 25, 2014

Comic shop comics: July 9- 23

Afterlife With Archie #6 (Archie Comics) This issue takes a break from the goings-on in Riverdale to check in with Sabrina The Teenage Witch, who accidentally kicked-off the whole zombie apocalypse thing when she tried to use black magic to resurrect Jughead's dead dog, Hot Dog.

Where has she been all this time? Well, she and some other characters with familiar names—familiar from the pages of H.P. Lovecraft's fiction, not from previous Archie comics—are in an asylum of sorts run by "Dr. Lovecraft," who artist Francesco Francavilla draws to exactly resemble his namesake.

I'm often a little leery of using Lovecraft mythology in comics and other media simply because it's been done so much before, and it generally needs an incredibly clever twist to justify taking another trip to that particular well. I think the logic here is a little fuzzy too, as it assumes a world in which the real Lovecraft was a fictional character like Sabrina, and his creations were all as real as he and Sabrina. Or, put another way, it imagines a world without H.P. Lovecraft, and then puts Lovecraft in it...?

At any rate, as leery as I was about much of this issue, which is essentially a series of Lovecraft Easter Eggs, Francavilla's art really does make all the difference, and it's an incredible treat to see him drawing Lovecraft, inserting weird horrors just out of sight of the protagonist (see the back of Lovecraft's jacket on page six, for example) and riffing on characters and creatures from the world of prose.

There is also, of course, a two-page spread of Cthulhu, coming to claim his bride Sabrina as she's trussed up in a vaguely Skull Islander-like bride-delivery system. Writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Francavilla's names both appear among the waves of that splash, and it's little wonder.
That's just the left half of the spread.
Who wouldn't want to sign their name on that?

Interesting that here we are on the sixth issue of a "Rated Teen+" for "violence and mature content" Archie comic about a zombie apocalypse suddenly breaking out in the suddenly realistic world of Riverdale and the series continues to surprise. As far as unexpected guest-stars in an Archie comic go, Cthulhu has got to be somewhere in the neighborhood of Sarah Palin and The Punisher. But the surprise was certainly heightened by the fact that he wasn't hyped as a guest-star the way those other two characters were, nor did he appear on either of the covers for the book.

The regular one by Francavilla (above) features Sabrina in the muck at the feet (pseudopods?) of a many-eyed creature, while bizarre, truly alien-looking, vaguely anthropoid figures are visible in the background.
There's also a Andre Peopy variant cover in which Sabrina, dressed in what appears to be a sexy witch Halloween costume (with a Salem earring) is using sparkly magic to fight off a horde of zombified Archie characters (you can't see them very clearly on account of the log, but that's Archie's head getting clobbered by magig right above the "e" in his name).

Aquaman #33 (DC Comics) Another issue from the nicely alliterative Parker/Pelletier/Parsons team. Aquaman's conflict with Chimera, a man-made monster that has the powers of pretty much every creature in the ocean (say, that was the plan of the evil doctor in The Blood Waters of Dr. Z, wasn't it?), continues. I...don't actually have anything at all to say about this comic which, in a way, is good, as it means there's nothing notably wrong with it. But, on the other hand, compared to a lot of the comics I brought home from the shop this week, there's really nothing to recommend it over a lot of the other superhero comics you can find it sharing rack space with.

100th Anniversary Special: Avengers #1 (Marvel Entertainment) I'm not entirely sure I get the premise of these specials (Here's Marvel expert Paul O'Brien struggling with it, in reference to the X-Men special). The idea seems to be to imagine what the Marvel Comics Entertainment of the year 2063 would be like—not in a future of the Marvel Universe sort of way, but the comics Marvel might be publishing in that year, with the Marvel timeline presumably continuing to slide as it does now—that date would be 100 years after the Avengers first debuted.

But this issue is numbered #1, rather than something very, very high, and yet is written as if in the middle of an on-going storyline, rather than the first issue of a newly rebooted series. Unless the point is that, in about 50 years, Marvel will reboot its numbering so often that every issue will be a #1...?

In other words, it sounds like Marvel trying to riff on Grant Morrison's 1998 idea of imagining what the one millionth issue of every comic in DC's line might be like in the 853rd Century, although for the most part they all just read like normal comics, with only the Morrison-written JLA #1,000,000 playing with a potentially futuristic format in any meaningful way (and, notably, that format in retrospect seems to be more 21st century than 853rd).

Honestly though, conceptual difficulties aside, the most important thing about the publishing initiative is this: Marvel let James Stokoe (Orc Stain, Godzilla: Half-Century War, Wonton Soup) seemingly do whatever the hell he wanted with The Avengers for the length of a comic book. I generally refuse to pay $3.99 for 21 pages of content, but what the hell—it's James Stokoe.

And it's just James Stokoe: Writing, drawing, coloring and lettering. This looks almost exactly like an issue of Orc Stain, having the same brightly, almost sickly colored alien landscapes and hordes of ugly little bald guys in it, with just a few Marvel characters in the mix. It looks a bit like an Avengers comics trained through an issue of Orc Stain, really.

Stokoe picks up the story where it theoretically left off, with Avengers Rogue, Beta Ray Bill and Dr. Strange (reincarnated in a different body), flying around in the Quinjet (a flying metal pyramid that seats four) and surveying the Badoon-invasion ravaged landscape. They aren't the only Avengers, but they're pretty much the only ones around at the moment, with Tony Stark now a brain in a jar controlling Avengers Tower, which has a gigantic Iron Man that vomits forth little Iron Mand head drones, built into it, and Captain America exploring the Negative Zone (and seen only on the last page).
When Mole Man the Third and his legions of Moloids attack, hoping to conquer Kuala Lumpur as a new homeland, it's up to The Avengers to stop them. They do this through several pages of spectacularly, intricately drawn violence, including the fantastic image of Beta Ray Bill with a Moloid between his scary space horse skull teeth while flying with his hammer that seems to glow from within, until Dr. Strange is able to gather up the necessary mystical energy for a peaceful solution.
It's a blast from start to finish, and a pretty compelling argument that Marvel should let Stokoe do...whatever he wants, with whichever characters he wants. He certainly makes Dr. Strange's magic looks incredible, and in a different way than creator Steve Ditko and all the other folks to draw Strange's milieu over the years have rendered it...

Batman Eternal #14 (DC) I've noted before that The Penguin seems to be the only character in the Batman line that has no real consistent design, despite his many immediate visual signifiers. He's short; he's fat; he has a long, sharp, beak-like nose; he wears a monocle and a tuxedo; he carries an umbrella and he smokes. But there doesn't seem to be any consensus as to how short or how fat he is, what he smokes and how, how extravagant his wardrobe choices are and, most gallingly to me because this is the exact sort of thing I end up noticing and then being unable to un-notice, which eye he wears his monocle in, how long his hair is or how many fingers he has on his hands (Safe bet is five, but he's sometimes drawn Batman Returns-style, with more flipper-like hands featuring fewer, larger digits).

This issue, which features different artists drawing the character on the cover and inside the book, is a pretty good example of how wildly the character designs vary.

Dustin Nguyen's cover features a Penguin that is only really recognizable as The Penguin because of the fact that this is a Batman comic book, with a little Batman figure standing at the center of the image. He looks rather plump, but more old and gone-to-seed than obese, and his face is hardened and wrinkled (I'd guess he's somewhere in his 60s, in this image?). He wears a pretty normal, off-the-rack tuxedo, perhaps with a white scarf, and a short top hat. His nose is more broad, flat and bulbous than bird-like, and he has a cigar clutched between his teeth, rather than clenching his more familiar cigarette holder. He wears his monocle over his right eye.

The art on the inside of the book is drawn by Jason Fabok, whose Penguin has his more familiar, beak-like nose, and is fat in a more grotesque, obese-like way, with a huge fold of fat like something a bullfrog might inflate resting below his chin. Fabok's Penguin, who we've seen a great deal of in earlier issues of this series as well as in the pages of Detective Comics, dresses in a long, fur-trimmed coat, has super-villainous eyebrows and longish, unkempt hair and he wears his monocle over his left eye.

It's rather unfortunate that DC makes everyone draw Batman's stupid bat head-shaped kneepads and Tim Drake's godawful "Red Robin" costume, but they can pretty much do whatever they want with The Penguin.

Anyway, if you're still reading and haven't skimmed ahead, this is a pretty big issue, I would say, as it features a turning point of sorts in the Falcone/Penguin gang war, and the still forming relationship between Jason Bard and Batman.

It opens with a one-page reminder that something supernatural is going on in Arkham Asylum, with The Scarecrow (there's another character who has had a strictly-enforced design in every appearance, unlike The Penguin!) is running through the halls, talking aloud as if sending a message via some sort of radio or phone, although he's not drawn as if he's carrying anything. Suddenly, arms reach through a wall and pull him into the wall! Ghost stuff!

During the main event, The Penguin is losing his shit in his "hideout" from Falcone's men on the outskirts of Gotham, a dingy motel called "The Golden Lark." (Not really the smartest hideout for a guy long-known for his bird obsession). There a henchman talks to The Penguin, and The Penguin responds by ripping open the man's throat with his bare hands because these days, every Bat-villain is The Joker of the late 1980s. The Penguin then gets an anonymous tip as to Falcone's whereabouts, and then apparently strips down to his longjohns, gets rabies and murders a dozen of Falcone's guards off-panel with an umbrella:
He's about to slit Falcone's throat when out jump Bard, Vicki Vale and the cops, who arrest them both; Penguin for murder and attempted murder, and Falcone for criminal conspiracy and for whatever contraband there is in Falcone's hideout. Has Bard single-handedly saved Gotham from the Penguin/Falcone gang war?

Sort of. Batman traced the anonymous tip that sent Penguin to Falcone's hideout to Bard's cellphone, which means Bard arranged the whole thing, and was, as Batman points out, responsible for the deaths of 12 men in the process. Batman's understandably unhappy with Bard, and me, I find myself a bit confused. Obviously co-plotters Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV were demonstrating that as much like the crusading James Gordon that Bard might be, Bard's not above playing dirtier than Gordon to win the day, even if it means allowing gangsters to get murdered by other gangsters.

The execution seems a bit off, though, and I'm not sure if Tynion couldn't have scripted the issue differently to make the scene seem a little less nonsensical (at the very least, I'm surprised one of the three contributing writers and three editors didn't suggest anything). Bard could have arrested Penguin during his attack on the first of Falcone's men, and still had reason to search Falcone's place on the grounds that there's a crazy guy in his underwear murdering trying to stab people with a trick umbrella, rather than standing by and watching as The Penguin killed successfully killed not one or eight but a dozen of Falcone's men before jumping out to snap pictures just as the villain is about to slit Falcone's throat.

As for the other events of this issue, Red Robin flies a Batplane to Tokyo with Harper Row stowed away on it (Hey, if there is no Robin at the moment, can't we just go back to calling Drake Robin again...?), Batman has a meeting with Gordon in Blackgate, and The Scarecrow meets The Joker's Daughter, who is apparently mixed up in the supernatural goings-on at Arkham. While simultaneously in Russia with The Suicide Squad. I guess.

Batman Eternal #15 (DC) I really like this cover by Dustin Nguyen, who also pencils the interiors in this issue (with Derek Fridolfs inking). The rendering's nice and all, but I really dig the color choices, and the contrasts between the white and black and blue and red. High five, Dustin Nguyen!

This is one of those multi-sub-plot issues, featuring greater movement in the Arkham-is-full-of-spooks plot than we haven't seen in a while, with Jim Corrigan and Batwing finally entering the premises (They've either been doing recon for, like, weeks, or just walking up to the front gate really, really slowly).

We also see Tim confront Harper (in an unfortunate art mistake, the stowing-away bit is staged vastly differently in this issue than in the previous one; in #14 she seemed to be in a completely different room on some massive Bat-plane, visible to Tim only by monitor, whereas here she's in the cockpit with him, crouched behind a crate just a few feet away).

Nguyen draws Tim's Red Robin get-up better than anyone I've seen draw it yet, even giving him an honest-to-God cape instead of those weird streamers he usually has (Another high five!), and there's a nice
little face-off in which Harper puts on a blue Grifter mask and Tim asks what she's wearing.
It's a mask worn not to protect her secret identity, but because she's ashamed to be seen with you in that outfit of yours.
Tim, you have no right to question anybody about their costume ever! Yours is now officially the Worst Costume In Superhero Comics. Youngblood cross the street when they see you coming.

Speaking of costumes, I don't really like Batwing's; it looks too owl-like, and I find it kinda weird that the only member of the Bat-family who isn't white completely covers his skin.

Also in this issue, Batman and Bard shake hands after Batman left him hanging last issue, and Batgirl and Red Hood meet up with Batwoman.

It's all very well drawn. I wish there were more Nguyen issues in Batman Eternal

Batman Eternal #16 (DC) Well ask and you shall receive! It's another Nguyen issue of Batman Eternal!

This one is almost entirely Arkham-set, and features what I think is the New 52 debut of Maxie Zeus (although I could and probably am wrong; given all the prison and asylum riots and break-outs in the dozen or so Bat-books, surely he had at least a cameo somewhere already). It looks like this Zeus is inspired by the more formidable version from Batman: The Animated Series, rather than the Denny O'Neil-created, Don Newton and Dan Adkins-drawn delusional gangster of the pre-New 52 comics.

There are also three pages set in Tokyo in which Red Robin Tim Drake and Grifter-cosplaying Harper Row fight some robot tentacles and come face to face with the inventor guy who helped train Batman in a "Zero Year" back-up story.

Fortuitously, the opening page of these scene faces that weird, dumb ad for the new volume of Teen Titans, so a reader can see exactly why it is that Ngueyn, Fridolfs and colorists John Kalisz's Red Robin looks significantly less dumb than the one in Teen Titans:
Not only does Nguyen draw the teenager to look like, you know, a teenager, they really cut down on the colors (no yellow padding on the gloves, no glowing green chest mirror, no red highlights on the pants, a dark colored utility belt), and streamlined the whole look, while giving Tim a cape rather than a cape-that-transforms-into-a-wingshaped-hanglider. It's still a lame costume, what with the harness and the bird head and the T-symbol, but it's not as lame as it is in its home book.

Batman '66 #13 (DC) No sign of regular writer Jeff Parker this issue (this ones by Gabe Soria, co-writer of Life Sucks with Jessica Abel and Warren Pleece), but we do get 20 pages of Dean Haspiel superhero art, which certainly makes this issue a treat. The antagonist appears to be not a particular foe (at least, not until the end), but the existence of a dark, intense, noir-ish and violent television show called Dark Knight Detective, the poster of which looks like the poster for Batman: The Animated Series, only with the Batman sporting a few days' worth of stubble on his chin.

In the black-and-white show, the Batman wears a suit and tie with his cowl (which bears the white, triangle eyes), and smacks around his opponents, threatening to "give them the Bat-business."

The show's a hit, even helping fight crime in Gotham, as thugs see the "real" Batman and cower in fear, pleading that he not give them the bat-business, but this Batman doesn't want all of Gotham City to be terrified of him, and so he confronts the man behind the show.

Soria offers a sharp, fun and funny take on the various forms of "Bat-Mania" that have swept the country at semi-regular intervals over the decades, and it's certainly interesting to see the goofy, cartoonish, so-called "campy" Batman literally confronted with darker, more violent media takes, as in this particular story, the criticism is leveled toward the post-Batman '66 takes, rather than vice versa.

Also, Haspiel's art is always a joy to read, and I particularly enjoyed his versions of the lead characters. Unlike some of the artists to have worked on this series (and it's ...Meets The Green Hornet spin-off), Haspiel doesn't try to model the characters closely on the actors who played them, but rather gives us his own version of Bruce Wayne from the Batman television show. That is, he doesn't cast Adam West in his art, he casts Haspiel's Bruce Wayne in the role of Bruce Wayne. He's not trying to ape the show, but simply draw the script. And damn does it look good.

Classic Popeye #24 (IDW) nothing. This was certainly another issue of Classic Popeye.

Flowers of Evil Vol. 10 (Vertical) Shuzo Oshimi's story enters it's tenth volume, which means its time to launch a new cover/book design scheme. So far, every three volumes have had unified designs, changing to something new every time the next volume starts, dividing the series into mult-volume chapters of sorts (That is, Volumes 1-3 all looked alike, 4-6 all looked alike, and 7-9). This looks to be a particularly important chapter, as Takao returns to his hometown for the first time since he left (for the death of his grandfather), and, while there, learns of the current whereabouts of his twisted muse and one-time obsession Nakamura, who he and his new friend and love interest track down together. They don't actually meet until the last panel, but Oshimi sure invests it with a sense of occasion. Likely one that will fill the next two volumes.

Insufficient Direction (Vertical) This is the only thing in this post I haven't finished reading yet; I'm only about halfway through, but this post is already a few days late, so I'm going to finish the post up, regardless of how finished I am reading everything purchased at the shop this last visit.

It is a series of short autobiographical vignettes by manga-ka Moyoco Anno (Happy Mania, Sugar Sugar Rune) about life with her husband Hideaki Anno (of Neon Genesis Evangelion fame), mostly revolving around their shared otaku-ness, and how Moyoco finds herself constantly negatively judging her husband for being an otaku, while denying that she herself is one...and constantly becoming a bigger and bigger one.

This being manga, Moyoco draws herself with a weird avatar she calls "Rompers," who looks like a cartoonishly drawn little baby (onesie and bib and all) with constantly swirling eyes. Her husband she calls "Director-kun," and draws to look like a real person (it's a good funny manga likeness, actually, generally only exaggerated for softer, comedic effect). In all honesty, it took a bit to get used to the idea that the baby was just an avatar, and, on first flip-through, it seems to be a manga about a man who married a talking baby (which...well, it's not the weirdest premise for a manga series that I've heard of).

It's an engaging read, but I was somewhat taken aback by how specific the many references to Japanese pop culture are (like, about one per panel) and how little of them I could understand without the 30 pages of annotations explaining them.

Until I bought this, I was pretty sure comics publisher's had already used every conceivable route in which to exploit my love of Eva to convince me to buy more comics, but I guess I hadn't thought of anyone ever publishing a comic about Anno's married life...

Lumberjanes #1-4 (Boom Studios) After months of dithering after reading the first issue in pdf format for a review, I decided to bite the bullet, catch-up on the series and add it to my pull-list. This may seem silly, but it was the sash on the back-cover with its custom-made Girl Scout Lumberjanes badges added with each issue, and the mix-tape CD covers and track-lists (and my dislike of the first Adventure Time trade paperback collection, which seemed to be 1/3rd variant covers) that ultimately convinced me to read this charming comic in serial, comic book format rather than wait for the trade.

Not so sure about those Yeti designs though. What are they doing in North America instead of the Himalayas? And why do they have horns? They look more Wampa then Yeti to me...

The New 52: Futures End #10 (DC) Aaron Lopresti and Art Thibert draw this issue, in which Batman "Beyond" Terry McGinnis conspires with Coil, The Key and Plastique to break into Mr. Terrific's HQ very publicly and loudly in The Wounded Duck, the bar where bearded Tim Drake and his girlfriend Maddy work. Tim recognizes Terry as a pupil of Batman's, and Terry maybe recognizes him back. ("What do you know about the Tonga Death Strike?" "I know the man who came up with the deathless variation.")

In other plot lines, Hawkman grows his arm back and begins to flirt with Amethyst, who Frankenstein has previously flirted with. Could we be looking at a love triangle? In space? Oh, and Masked Superman does some stuff, Grifter starts narrating for the first time in ten issues, and a lady finds Big Barda working in a soup kitchen, although she keeps her armor in a gym bag she always carries with her.

The New 52: Futures End #11 (DC) Artist Georges Jeanty draws this issue, the highlight of which is the Justice League of 2019—Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Aquaman, Cyborg, Red Arrow Roy Harper, the still-being-introduced Justice League United character Equinox and new character Stormguard—beaming Ronnie Raymond aboard their satellite HQ for an intervention, that leads only to both halves of Firestorm resigning from the League separately.

I think I'd rather follow the Justice League of 2019 around in this series rather than Grifter, Hawkman, Batman Beyond and company, but the protagonists of this series are up to its four writers, not me.

The New 52: Futures End #12 (DC) This Jesus Merino-pencilled, Dan Green-inked twelfth issue of the series—we've already had over a year's worth of a monthly comic, counting that #0 issue!—features a long stretch featuring New 52, Fiver Years Later King Faraday and characters from Team WildStorm, I think, and some dull business featuring big yellow Hulk lady Ravage and an annoying mad geneticist.

More exciting by far are the opening, in which Frankenstein, Hawkman and Amethyst meet the Brainiac-possessed Engineer and a bunch of robots, and the ending, in which we return to the somewhat more nightmarish future of 35 years from now, where we discover that both Batman Bruce Wayne (sans arm, of course) and his old foe The Joker are both still alive. They are seen in the company of evil cyborg versions of Congorilla, original style Lobo (although in one panel his white skin is colored the peach-like color of caucasians) and Frenkenstein, whose jacket is now left open to reveal Black Canary's head, which looks quite different than it did upon its first unveiling; now it looks more like her face stretched out and stitched on his chest, rather than her head embedded in it.

Still gross, though!

Saga #21 (Image Comics) There's a scene in this issue in which Mama Sun, the madam at Sextillion and her legal counsel, a little lizard man, inform the brain-addled Prince Robot IV that his wife has been killed and his son kidnapped. Regaining his senses (somewhat), Robot responds with incredible violence. In the background, the lawyer's tail pops off in fright, and, two panels later, it can be seen wriggling on the floor in the center of that particular image. It's a neat little detail, and just that, but the sort which Saga is filled with, their number giving the often strange setting a rich, textured, realistic, even rewarding feel.

"Gross," a friend of mine who was reading my copy before I did said aloud, and I asked her what she was referring to. She showed me page nine, a full-page splash of the kidnapper, holding a recent victim's spinal column in one bloody hand, the poor dead guy's head still attached.

"What?" I said. "It looks like what you'd find in pretty much any DC Comic. Except it's better-drawn."

She-Hulk #5 (Marvel) She-Hulk and the gang continue to investigate the mystery of the blue file, with Shulkie taking a meeting with Dr. Kevin Trench, aka Nightwatch (Who I had to Google, as I'd never heard of him). Their meeting is interrupted by a horde of creatures that look like Stitch from Lilo & Stitch crossed with bats. Ron Wimberly is still guest-drawing, which means this will likely be a controversially received issue, based on visuals alone. I like his art just fine, although I wish the last panel on page 4 were drawn differently. Something pretty pivotal happens, involving something going from one character's mouth into another's (sorry to be so vague) and it's unclear if it's some form of liquid or a beam of light or energy, as there's no real sense of texture in Wimberly's art (it's drawn the same as the blood in these panels, but it also seems to light up things around it, as if were emanating bright light).

Seconds (Ballantine Books) I'll be giving this a formal review elsewhere in the near future, but am including it here so as to adhere to the rules of this regular EDILW feature. This is, of course, Bryan Lee O'Malley's first comics work since finishing up his Scott Pilgrim series, and, because of that, I can't think of another example of a book I've read with so much trepidation. I was worried for myself as a reader, worried that it wouldn't be good, or that it would read quite poorly after Scott Pilgrim, by virtue of O'Malley suffering some kind of sophomore slump or difficult second act or simply not living up to whatever expectations I had for it, based on O'Malley's previous works (Lost at Sea, Scott Pilgrim and some shorts and covers I'm surprised no one has collected yet). I was also a little worried for the author, as I would kinda hate to be in that position, finishing up such a long-lived and beloved series to start something brand-new.

I needn't have worried though. It's really good, completely deserving the term "graphic novel," with the accent on "novel," and it was an engrossing, couldn't-put-it-down-even-though-I-really-shoulda-went-to-bed-100-pages-ago sort of read. It looks a lot like the work of O'Malley, but it doesn't read much like Scott Pilgrim at all (with the exception, perhaps, of the two protagonists both being a little dim).

The premise involves mushrooms and starting over at certain points, and thus operates on a sort of arcade, or at least arcade-adjacent, logic, but O'Malley eschews video game references, and it is instead a much more mystical affair than I would have imagined.

I think the book benefits from being a single book, rather than a series of several shorter volumes, as it easily could have been, and from O'Malley collaborating manga studio-style (or what I imagine to be magna studio-style) with a drawing assistant (Jason Fischer), colorist (Nathan Fairbairn) and letterer (Dustin Harbin). Regarding drawing, I would love to read who did did what, but the characters all look like O'Malley's, and the stuff that looks foreign—the food, the cityscapes, the buildings—could be because they are Fischer's, or could simply be because they are in color, or because O'Malley's a different artist than he was a decade ago.

Anyway, real, less-rambling review to follow within the week.

Superior Foes of Spider-Man #13 (Marvel) Okay yes, that's some straight-from-the-Three-Stooges slapstick right there, but its presence here in a Marvel Universe comic book, one written by Nick Spencer with deadpan jokes, conveyed beautifully via Steve Lieber's realistic style, is fantastic. And that's just one gag on one minor page (the last page is a pretty killer one, as two long-separate threads are shown to be just about to meet again).

It's a good illustration of what makes this comic so great. It looks so much like the sort of crime or super-crime comic of the sort that, say, Ed Brubaker used to be all about, which only makes the comedy feel more subversive, and the jokes hit all the harder.

Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe #1 (IDW) Hey, it's James Stokoe again! Drawing the variant cover I happened to get, which is sitting atop interiors drawn, colored, lettered and co-written by Tom Scioli, and co-written by John Barber.

And yes, this is another $3.99/20-page comic, but frankly Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe #0 was so goddam entertaining, I assumed this issue would be well-worth the extra buck and, I think it's worth noting, that the comic is so rich with texture and detail that it took about as long to read as most Marvel or DC trade paperbacks do, and that's before even factoring in the five pages of page-by-page commentary by the creators, complete with different versions of art and scenes cut from the book (I wonder how unique this book is in its writing and re-writing process, as the various drafts discussed all seem so radically different from one another).

Also, nice paper stock, and all the ads in the back. This is really nice package, even if I wish it were $2.99 (as both Afterlife With Archie and Saga are).

So the other day I was reading Mark Bellomo's The Ultiamte Guide to G.I. Joe 1982-1994 Identification and Price Guide (KP Book; 2005), because why wouldn't I be, and among the many figures/characters I didn't know existed that I read about was Hard Top, who came included with Defiant" Space Vehicle Launch Complex (he drove the "crawler," mobile space shuttle launching pad/tank thingee). And then, while reading this comic, I see him on the penultimate page, one of the 30 recognizable Joe characters in the second panel.
It was sort of strange reading this on the heels of that guide book, of which I'm only on 1988, as it reminded me of so many figures, vehicles and playsets I had forgotten about (my memories of the cartoon are my strongest, my memories of the toys that neither I nor any of my friends own are virtually non-existent at this point). Scioli and Barber are very thorough in their references, but then, I suppose that's to be expected of any comic that includes a "Special thanks to Ed Piskor, Jasen Lex, and Aychbe for the loan fof their collections...for art reference."

The comic is very much more of the same of what was in the zero issue; an awesome G.I. Joe comic that synthesizes the cartoon, comics and toys into one rather seamless seeming and inventive whole, with a Transformer plot creeping in.

A Joe team saves the town of Springfield from a full-on invasion by Tomax, Xamot and their Crimson Guard while, in the shadows, Destro and a character looking like a mysterious cross between The Baroness and Serpentor watch and plot. Meanwhile, the planet Cybertron is gradually entering Earth's atmosphere, and the Joe team sets up a meeting with a Decepticon contingent at "Area Zero: 52 top-secret levels above Area 51."

There General Hawk receives three transforming alien ships (Shockwave, Soundwave and Starscream), speaking to Ravage, who emerges with Laserbeak and Frenzy from the Soundwave ship. It all goes South pretty quickly, thanks in part to Ravage's misunderstanding of the word "peace" vs. "surrender" and Snake-Eyes appearing in a mysterious capacity. Soundwave seems to die in the melee (Noooooooo!), but Laserbeak and Frenzy find themselves taking "sanctuary within the coils of Cobra."

At book's end, a huge Joe strike-force is preparing to land upon Cybertron, which the creators reveal was part of their pitch for the series. Rather than the Transformers invading Earth, as in every previous G.I. Joe crossover (and almost every Transformer story ever), this series is reversing it, so that the Joes invade Cybertron.
I have to imagine this book is appealingly insane to anyone who has no or simply limited exposure to these franchises in their 1980s glory, but to those of us who played with these toys and watched these cartoons, this book is ridiculously amazing. I'm in awe of how much they pack into this issue, and of their ability to cook up great line after great line (I'm not sure what my favorite is; maybe a three-way tie between "I offered you peace, and you ran me over with your car" and "If you meet Space Buddha, kill Space Buddha" and "We have met the enemy...and it is giant killer robots.")

This is, without a doubt, my absolute favorite comic book being published at the moment.

Thursday, July 24, 2014


This week at Good Comics For Kids I have a review of Fred's Cast Away on the Letter A, the first offering on Toon Books' new sub-imprint Toon Graphics, and the first of their planned collection of the late French cartoonist Frederic Otohn Aristedes's adventures starring the young man Philomen.

And at Robot 6 I have a review of Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew's The Shadow Hero, which turned out a hell of a superhero comic, a great use of the genre to make broader points, a typical Yang comic in its successful synthesis of a variety of tones, a nice meditation on the identity issues that dominate much of Yang's writing and an excellent showcase for the remarkable skills of artist Sonny Liew.

What I did not have this week is a post on Every Day Is Like Wednesday last night.. That's because I went to the shop for the first time in three weeks yesterday, and good God did I get a huge haul of comics, including several graphic novels. I did get them all read before going to bed last night, but I didn't write about 'em yet. So expect a "Comic Shop Comics" column...tomorrow night, if everything goes according to plan.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Review: Harley Quinn Invades Comic-Con International San Diego #1

I generally loathe the very concept of having issue numbers with decimal points in them, something Marvel has indulged in quite a bit over the past few years and DC flirted with during their weird "Villains Month" last September, but this book actually seems like one in which an issue number with a decimal point in it would actually work. That's because in its format, style, tone and even some of its marketing, Harley Quinn Invades Comic-Con International San Diego #1 reads a lot like Harley Quinn #0; think of this as Harley Quinn #0.1.

As such, it promises many of the same pleasures, but also many of the same pitfalls and, unfortunately, there are fewer pleasures here than in the #0 issue, but much more time spent in the pitfalls, as the book becomes quite quickly overtaken by weird in-jokes, many of which feature various DC comics executives and creators, appearing in scenes in which the jokes are sometimes at the expense of the people who buy and read DC comics. That's sort of weird, right?

As with every issue of the New 52 version of the Harley Quinn solo comic, it is written by the husband and wife team of Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti, with the former providing the cover: Here a wraparound cover in which we see Harley running past a line of DC cosplayers and stereotypes (Because this is a DC comic, all of the comics characters represented by cosplayers, merchandise and background noise—note the Kaley Cuoco Power Girl movie poster between Harley's pigtails on the cover—are either DC characters, or generic character-types. Similar to the way that Warner Bros' direct-to-DVD Scooby-Doo: Mask of The Blue Falcon was set at a comics convention where the only superheroes in existence seemed to be ones from Hanna-Barbera cartoons, a gag that worked a bit better for the Scooby movie, given its higher level of ridiculousness).

The artwork, as that in the #0 issue, comes courtesy of a sort of all-star jam line-up, although it's worth noting that, despite a higher page count, there are fewer stars involved in this issue, and many of them boast a much lower wattage. Paul Pope kicks everything off with a four-panel first page in which Harley leaps into a two-page splash title page, laughing "HA HA!!" in Pope's hand-writing in a little, Pope-shaped dialogue bubble. It's only a page, but yeah, he certainly qualifies as one of "the GREATEST ARTISTS of ALL TIME!" mentioned on the cover (What? No "comics" qualifier between "greatest" and "artists"...?).
From there, though, the caliber of creator slips. EDILW favorite Damion Scott and Robert Campanella contribute five pages, Amanda Conner herself draws three and Stephane Roux two and from there the line-up consists of creators I'm much less familiar with: Javier Garron, John Timms, Marco Failla and Dave Johnson (plus four different colorists!).

The premise is that Harley has traveled to SDCC with some of the characters that live in the building he runs in Coney Island; I'm not sure what exactly their business is, but I think it has something to do with old-school carnie folk, and they're here to sell merchandise of some kind (I didn't make it very far past the #0 issue of the Harley Quinn monthly, before the mixture of poor humor and aggressive, desperate joke-making turned me off; it's fine to tell lame jokes and to fail to be funny constantly—I'd be a hypocrite to suggest otherwise!—but in Harley Quinn those lame jokes are always delivered with an off-putting confidence bordering on arrogance, a sort of wackiness or zaniness produced by writers who crack their knuckles, sit down at the keyboard and announce, "Okay, let's write some wacky and zany stuff!").

Harley's con invasion is broken up into days, so under the banner of "Day One: Tuesday" she and friends arrive, and we get the first instance of a running gag that will be repeated every few pages. Harley will see someone in the crowd and say, "Oh my God! It's that--" and in a string of off-center, no-spaces verbiage she will rattle off some long, complicated back-story to the person's career or stuff they are famous for, before ending with, "I love that guy!"
If you're reading the comic, and not just this review of it, then I hope you liked that gag. Because you'll be seeing a lot more of it. A lot more.

It's in the hotel that night that she shows her friend Queenie her portfolio, which features her own superhero creation, "Hurl Girl," who is "a superhero that up-chucks her way out of any situation." This accounts for Conner's interior work, three pages of black-and-white comics featuring the character; turns out Harley draws a lot like Conner, only slightly rougher.

Later, she hijacks a truck of DC Comics clothes and gives them away to the homeless, and beats up and nearly murders a waitress at "Rude Rick's Hateful Hideaway," one of those mean-on-purpose places.

On Day Two, John Timms takes over the art (I really like his sharp lines and angles, and he's got a great style, but oh boy does his Harley costume suddenly shrink dramatic, compared to what Scott had her wearing in the previous sequences).

Here we get our first DC Comics cameos, as Harley approaches "Katie Kubert, DC Editor," who Timms draws in a more illustrative style (ditto the other real people). She suggests Harley talk to Bob Harras, DC's Editor-In-Chief regarding a portfolio review, and when Harley asks how she can ever thank Kubert, the editor responds "When you are rich and famous, hire me out of this soul-sucking job."

  • Ha ha it's funny because...working for DC is horrible...?

  • To illustrate how terrible the job is, she's show to be surrounded by three fans asking innocent if inane questions about DC Comics plot points, scheduling and creators.

    Gross! DC fans! Is there anything a DC Editor hates more?

    Unfortunately for Harley, Bob Harras is talking to Batman, which is...weird. I don't know if this is meant to be the "real" Batman or just someone dressed like Batman, but Harley, who is, remember, the "real" Harley, says it's Batman, and while she is an unreliable narrator, this Batman is drawn like Batman might be drawn—big, muscular, square jaw, cool suit—so...I don't know.

    Harley pantses Batman in order to make Batman look bad and show her portfolio to Harras (who, luckily, doesn't get any dialogue, so he doesn't come across like an asshole, like a lot of the other folks Palmiotti and Conner include). It doesn't work, but we do see that Batman–or a guy who dresses like Batman—wears boxers with Harley Quinn on them under the suit (apparently the utility belt doesn't actually hold his pants up?).
    How one wears boxers with skin-tight spandex pants, I don't know, but there's got a be a lot of bunching and chafing going on in Batman's nether regions. Explains the scowl, I guess.

    Thrown out for that, Harley tries a variety of hijinx to get back in, and eventually stumbles into a room of guys dressed up like The Joker, at which point she breaks the fourth wall...
    ...and comes out of the room on the next page, her hair a mess, saying "Yeah, yeah, I know none of them was the real Mistah J... ...But I hadda make sure."

    The fake Jokers, meanwhile, are all drawn with their lipstick smeared al over their faces and their hair tousled—so she apparently just smooched them all. Don't use that much imagination!

    Day Three, drawn by Marco Failla, finds Harley partying with a limo full of Harley cosplayers, all of whom are dressed as different versions of her. They say they want to go out for a night of mayhem, but, not realizing that Harley's the real Harley, they turn out not to be ready for her brand of mayhem.

    Day Four brings us more DC cameos and in-jokes, including the bizarre one I ranted and raved about the other day. Dan DiDio is being interviewed in front of a television camera, and the interview consists of him rambling a bunch of jokes that seem to be at his own expense...
    ...but then there's that weird bit about editorial oversight, and I'm not even sure I get it. In the previous panel, they were taking something absolutely real and true—DC's dumb September events with gimmick covers that proved hard and expensive to create, according to DC—and exaggerating it for comedic effect.

    But then, in the next panel, he's talking about how they're launching a new line with no editorial input, just creators going crazy and doing what they want (that is, how most of the comics that aren't produced by DC, Marvel and some part of a few other publishers' lines are produced), but that's not an exaggeration of something true, but the exact opposite of the current situation.

    So while the sequence starts out by making fun of DiDio, it then seems to pivot to having DiDio making fun of...DC Comics readers? Again?

    And then there's the weird swipe at Marvel, in which Harley Quinn, currently starring in a book that is basically just DC's answer to Deadpool's recent success, laments that they "aren't looking for anything new or original."
    And then the day closes with a brief, un-embarrassing cameo by Geoff Johns...
    What's with the hat, I wonder? Has Johns got a little bald spot going? If so, just shave your head, man! Embrace baldness! It's very freeing!

    Day Five, and it's time for a Jim Lee joke! Jim Lee—also wearing a baseball cap!—reviews Harley's portfolio in a six-panel sequence, in which thoughts race through her head in very wordy thought bubbles, as Lee silently looks at her work and she tries to guess what he's thinking, growing angrier and angrier until he says something nice at the end, and she skips away, overjoyed.

    This lead to my favorite gag in the comic, a reference to Stan Lee: "I could give a crap his dad created all those other comic characters for that other company!"
    Doesn't hurt to kiss the boss' ass now and then, I guess.

    And then we finally, finally get to the final pair of gags, on Day Six. Handsome actor Steve Amell is talking to a group of fans—I don't watch Arrow, so I didn't recognize him with his shirt on until the dialogue offered a clue as to who he was—while a security detail that looks like Secret Service keep them at bay. Harley charges through the crowd, screaming about how she simply has to get this guy to sign her autograph book and when Amell offers, she pushes him aside to approach, "Bruce Timm! My hero!" She fawns over Timm and Paul Dini, her creators, before trying to get her hands on a copy of Batman Adventures #12, her own first comic book appearance.

    The dealer will sell it to her for "about three hundred bucks," which, wait, is that how much those are going for? Because I'm pretty sure I've got one in a long box in the tomb-like structure of longboxes in my ancestral home. Do I really have a comic book that might actually be worth some amount of money?

    I hope so. This Harley Quinn special, on the other hand? I wouldn't all it "worthless," as there are a few gags that land, there's some great art, and it offers the always welcome opportunity to see Paul Pope and Damion Scott in action, but it's not what I'd call a fine comic book.

    Or even a Very Good or Good one. Maybe Fair/Good...? Or Fair? Let's go with Fair/Good.

    Monday, July 21, 2014

    Review: Robin Rises: Omega #1

    The opening page of Robin Rises: Omegan #1, a one-shot special kicking off the next storyline in the Peter Tomasi-written, Batman and Robin series, recaps the events of Mike Barr and Jerry Bingham's 1987 graphic novel, Batman: Son of The Demon, as narrated by Batman and drawn by the art team of pencil artist Andy Kubert, inker Jonathan Glapion and colorist Brad Anderson.

    The next seven pages recap events from Batman and his dead son Damian's life. It's a very thorough recap, basically brining any new readers attracted by the #1 or the promise of an "event" (the dead Robin Damian returning to life, as the title all but promises) up to speed, but it covers a good eight years worth of storylines. While meant to be a recap, it reads more like a required reading list.

    Following the quick recap of Son of The Demon, it then references the events of various comic books collected in Batman and Son, Final Crisis*, the pre-New 52 Batman and Robin Vols. 1-3, Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne (all written by Grant Morrison), the post-New 52 Batman and Robin Vols. 1-4 (written by Tomasi), Batman Vol. 2: Death of The Family (Snyder) and Batman, Incorporated Vol . 2: Demon Star (Morrison again).
    That sure seems like a lot of reading to have to be familiar with before the story of this particular comic even really gets going, and more are referenced during the comic, with Batman touching a magical gem that allows him to remember the events of Batman/Superman Vol. 1: Crossworld and the new Justice League that was formed during the aftermath of Forever Evil mentioning the events of Justice League Vol. 1: Origin.

    Now, because the eight-page review of the entire history of Damian Wayne was so damn throrough, one really need not have read or be super-familiar with all of those storylines to read this comic to understand and even enjoy this comic. After the recap, it is really nothing more than a big fight scene, given import by its players and the way it is explicitly linked to the previous eight years worth of Batman comics—or at least a single thread of those comics.

    But I'm having a hard time recalling a comic book that made so many references to so many other particular trades before.

    After all of that summary, which Andreson colors in a slightly gauzier manner, to give the scenes a fuzzier, dream-like quality designating them as flashbacks, pages 10 and 11 of the 40-page comic shows a two-page spread, in which Batman offers his final sentence of narration for the book—"Which brings us here, to the Himalayas...where it seems fitting that this all end in the snow"—and a character soon identified as New God Glorious Godfrey and the forces of Apokalips (identifiable as such by the presence of the Jim Lee-redesigned Parademons of Justice League amid the guys in battle armor) face off against a small army consisting of Batman, Ra's al Ghul, Frankenstein, Damian's great dane Titus and Ra's al Ghul's Man-Bats and ninja warriors. Two weird, black vaguely ancient Egyptian hover-coffins float at the feet of Ra's; these are the coffins of Damian and Talia al Ghul.

    After four pages of parley, in which Godfrey informs them that he's come for "the original chaos shard" which can "amplify energy like nothing else in the universe and defy physics," and concludes that Ra's has hidden the shard inside Damian's coffin, the two forces fight.

    For the rest of the issue.

    Normally, that would seem pretty dull and excessive, but American superhero comics so rarely show action of any kind lasting longer than a few panels or a splash page, it's actually sort of refreshing seeing a battle scene given a few dozen pages to breathe, even if the number of participants means the set-piece is still a little too heavy on the posing, and a little too light on the panel-to-panel sequential action. Still, nice to see Kubert get a chance to draw so many characters and so damn much fighting.
    The battle is particularly brutal, with Batman being the only really good guy in it, and even he chops the arms off of Parademons and repeatedly stabs them in the eyes with the pointy wing of a Batarang.
    The cannon fodder characters are dispatched with haste left and right, and Frankenstein has his arm ripped off, because of course he does (I'm not trying to be funny here, but I have honestly lost count of how many times Frankenstein has lost his arm this summer).

    During the course of the battle, Ra's gets blasted with a laser weapon and he and Talia's coffin both fall into a deep crevasse, and are seemingly lost. Batman grabs ahold of the disputed crystal, just long enough to recover his memories of the events of Crossworld, and, well, read the last panel:
    Godfrey takes the crystal and the coffin, and is about to pop a cap in Batman's cowl when the Justice League shows up to join the fray.

    Wonder Woman, Captain Cold, Lex Luthor, Cyborg, Aquaman and Captain Marvel Shazam wade into the battle, and all proceed to start murdering the forces of Apokolips like it was five years ago all over again:

    Worst of all is Aquaman, who reprises his sharks-eating-Parademons trick with killer whales here, but adding a terrible joke: "You obviously don't come in peace-- --but feel free to leave in pieces!"
    Shut up, Aquaman.

    Oh, and if you're wondering what a pod of orcas is doing anywhere near the land-locked Himalayas, well, join the club.
    Maybe there's a secret Sea World run by Yeti beneath the ice in somewhere around there...?

    I suppose it's kind of silly to question such things in a book like this, where Frankenstein is teaming up with Batman and an immortal warlord to fight extra-dimensional invaders over a power crystal, but, well, when there's this much fantastic going on, you want the real-world stuff to be, you know, real. I'd say this is almost as bad as Wolverine finding a polar bear in Antarctica to kill and skin just so he could wear a polar bear skin for a few panels of Avengers Vs. X-Men, but then, that was a Marvel event comic, and this is a minor, book-specific storyline, so it won't be read and therefore noticed as much.

    Wait, what the hell was I talking about before I started google the range of orcas and maps of the Himalayas...?

    Oh yeah, so then Cyborg is able to Boom Tube away all of the Apokaliptian soldiers who weren't killed already, but Godfrey has Damian's coffin and the crystal when he steps through one of the portals.. Batman's set to pursue, but Shazam pulls him away from the closing Boom Tube, and then Batman proceeds to yell at him while punching him in the face for three panels, and then, when Luthor says something, Batman punches him too.

    The guy just lost the body of his son, but even still, Batman seems a little high-strung. I kind of wish Cap would have flicked him and sent him reeling a few feet back into a snowbank or something. Instead, Cyborg breaks it up with an "enough."

    The book ends with Batman pointing at the Justice League and screaming at them in a red-ringed dialogue bubble.
    The story then continues in Batman and Robin, where Tomasi will be joined by his regular artistic collaborator, Patrick Gleason.

    Kill-happy Justice League, punch-happy Batman and the out-of-place killer whales aside, it's pretty nice, big, stupid, melodramatic stuff, provided you know enough to follow along.

    And, if not, well, the first eight pages or so sure gives you plenty of homework you need to do to catch up. Then you can come back and read this issue in context.

    *The panel referencing Final Crisis simply has Batman narrating "I died" with an image of an Omega Beam—not in a pair, but just a single one—angling around the panel before striking Batman in the temple. The next two panels summarize the events of Morrison's Batman and Robin and Return of Bruce Wayne, which, frankly, is awfully odd. Final Crisis isn't, or at least shouldn't be, continuity after the events of Flashpoint.

    Or, to use the in-story rationale for the New 52 reboot, it still happened, but after Reverse-Flash, Flash and Pandora messed with the time-stream, with Pandora merging "New Earth" with the WildStorm Universe and some version of a Vertigo Universe into a new, altered timeline, no one should remember the events of
    Final Crisis. As far as we know, Batman and the heroes of Earth have encountered Darkseid exactly once, in the pages of the first story arc of Justice League.

    Also unexplained? Damian's age. It doesn't seem to matter too much here, as there's no explicit reference to how long Batman has been active. In the New 52, he's been around about seven years or so now—The Zero Year, the five years between the first
    Justice League arc and Batman #1 and 'TEC #1 and so on, plus the one year between 'TEC #1 and Death of the Family—whereas Damian was conceived at some point during that time, and would now be about 11 years old if he were still alive.

    think we're supposed to assume Talia used some kind of super-science to accelerate his aging, even if that makes no sense at all, because otherwise, the Batman with a seven-year-career having an 11-year-old son breaks the very, very fragile and hard to take seriously New 52 timeline. But, like I said, there's no explanation here, despite all the explanations given in the first chunk of the book, and, read without thinking about the reboot at all, it doesn't really affect this particular comic book.