Friday, October 31, 2014

DC's redesigns of General Mills' monster cereal monsters didn't look quite like I expected.

I was pretty surprised when I was pouring myself a bowl of Count Chocula-brand chocolatey cereal with spooky-fun marshmallows a week or three ago, and saw a quote from Jim Lee on the side. Apparently, I just can't escape DC Comics; they even follow him home from the grocery store.

Writes Lee, here credited as "Co-Publisher, DC Entertainment":
We were so excited when the monsters team called us to help design their packaging because we've been fans since we were kids. We hope you love all of these designs as much as we do.
Lee, Dave Johnson and Terry and Rachel Dodson took on the task of redesigning one of the General Mills monster cereals' Trinity (That is, no Fruit Brute or Yummy Mummy), and none of them went too far in terms of their redesigns; that is, none of the monsters look as radically different as the recent-ish redesigns of, say, Superman or Batman or The Creeper or pretty much any DC Comics character (For what they did do, check out Chris Sims' article at Comics Alliance).

Honestly, as soon as I learned that Lee and DC were redesigning the monster cereal monsters, I just sort of assumed the results would end up looking a little more like this...

...but you know what they say about making assumptions.

Thursday, October 30, 2014


This week I reviewed Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang's In Real Life for Good Comics For Kids, and Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey's Moon Knight Vol. 1: From The Dead for Robot 6, if you'd like to go read those reviews.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Comic Shop Comics: October 29

Batman Eternal #30 (DC) In this issue, The Spectre finally makes his appearance, as all readers knew he would the moment Jim Corrigan was introduced into the series. It's still a pretty dramatic moment, seen from afar, as the sky above Gotham City literally opens up, a beam of green light that's not exactly light strikes Arkham Asylum and, after a few pages of Batman and Julia Pennyworth noting the strange, Biblical events from the cockpit of a helicopter and the Batcave respectively, we get a good look at The New 52 Spectre, who, like every other New 52 character re-design, looks worse than he originally did (Did any character get a cooler costume during the reboot? I feel like at least a few must have, just going by the laws of probability and math and junk).

I don't think that design is pencil artist Fernando Pasarin's fault—The Spectre previously appeared in an early issue of Trinity of Sin: Phantom Stranger, I know—but I was bemused to see that they replaced his green shorts with what appear to be black leather pants (The New 52-boot has been pretty hard on bare least for the men, although DC did flirt with giving Wonde Woman a pair of pants), and gave him a chain and some weird straps to cover his giant, spectral nipples and belly button, I guess.

I know they've tweaked The Spectre's design over the years, mostly to reflect changes in the host, giving him a goatee when Crispus Allen was The Spectre, and a Green Lantern-esque costume when Hal Jordan was, but as far as character designs go, The Spectre is pretty much a perfect example of It's Not Broken So Don't Fix It (Also, this Spectre just rises out of Corrigan, and picks up ghosts or whatever in his giant hands; he doesn't turn his fists into mallets or scythes, or open his mouth into a hellmouth to suck all the demons back into himself, or do anything overtly cool and Spectre-y).

Ah well.

This is, as I said, a pretty dramatic issue. The Spectre puts the expected end to the Blackfire's ghost-haunting-Arkham sub-plot in the expected fashion, destroying the asylum in the process (as was spoiled in last week's Arkham Manor #1 set well after this issue). Interestingly, The Spectre accessing his power from heaven or whatever causes all kinds of nasty side-effects, downing a plane full of passengers (Don't worry Literal Wrath of God; Batman's got your back!) and collapsing the asylum atop of everyone who was in it or under it. Things look particularly grim for poor Batwing II, because his monthly title is being canceled.

Meanwhile, a shadowy figure is manipulating The Joker's Daughter, and it's apparently a different shadowy figure than Hush, because they've already revealed that Hush is Hush, so why keep his identity a mystery once he's outted? So there are multiple shadowy figures manipulating events from behind the scenes of the series, I guess...?

After that super-intense issue, it was nice to get some comedy relief in the form of this week's Channel 52 advertorial, written by Wonder Woman assistant editor David Pina, in which Pina calls David Finch "one of the greatest comics artists alive." No qualifiers, like, "one of the greatest comics artists I've every had the pleasure to work with," or "one of the greatest comics artists to work for the Big Two in the last decade" or "one of my personal favorite comics artists" or "one of the greatest comics artists whose first name and last name both have the same number of letters in them." No, just David is one of the greatest comics artists alive. Alive! David Pina, assistant editor of Wonder Woman, has, I gather, never read any comic books ever. (I'm honestly struggling to think of a not-terrible comic Finch has done for DC, and I cant' think of anything. Even going back to his Marvel work, I can't think of anything all that great. Maybe his first few issues of New Avengers...? A Moon Knight cover? Seriously, what is that guy's best work? Because he is really, really bad at drawing superhero comics. I don't mean that in a "I personally don't care for his style kind of way," but just in a, "Wait, you drew that arm three times thicker than that arm," or "The leg connects to the hip, no the rib cage" or "The person jumping through that window is three times larger than the window itself" kind of way).

Anyway, maybe that's one problem with DC Comics...? There are members of their editorial staff that think David Finch is one of the greatest comics artists alive...?

The New 52: Futures End #26 (DC) Hey, it's Batman! He's on the cover. He's also in the comic book, with Bruce Wayne meeting very briefly with Mr. Terrific in the first scene, and Batman himself trick-texting Ronnie Raymond and Jason Rusch into meeting one another in the Central Park Zoo after closing so that he could tell them to quit being babies and just be Firestorm again already, jeez.

The other Batman, the one from the future who is named Terry, is also in this issue, and he talks to Plastique about time travel over the course of two pages, saying things that directly contradict thing she said right before those other things. Maybe if the book had just a fifth or sixth writer, it would have a better script, but four writers just aren't enough.

I think that's all of interest that happened. There's some new information about Fifty Sue, presented in the form of a holographic file Brother Eye/Brainiac causes to appear before her, which is almost interesting, at least in that it refers to the tenets of creationism, and implies that she is a man-made God.

Scot Eaton penciled this issue, while Scott Hanna and Drew Geraci inked it. I read it. I don't know why, but I read it. I'll read next week's too, I bet. I know it's not good for me, I don't even really enjoy it, but I keep doing it—Futures End is the Lay's potato chips of superhero comics.

Saga #24 (Image Comics) On almost any other week, this would have been hands-down my favorite comic book. Not only is there some awesome/terrible swearing, not only does a character say the immortal line "the main ingredient this elixir requires is dragon semen" (Damn, and I thought slaying dragons was challenging!), not only is their missionary style memory sex between The Will and The Stalk (I have no idea where he's putting his penis), but this issue features the return of all of the beloved characters we haven't seen in forever, and the long-awaited (by me) fight between Lying Cat and Sweet Boy.

Sensation Comics #3 (DC) This turned out to be my favorite comic of the week, though.

Savage Critic and retailer Brian Hibbs discussed one big problem he had with the book as a guy who actively wants to sell comic books to people, and, as a reader, I agree with him: It is a terrible, terrible cover.

Hibbs' point is that it is tonally opposite of the entire contents of the book (two-and-a-half stories spread over 26 pages), and, if you're someone who likes the comics in the book, you'll likely be repelled by that cover, while if you're attracted to that cover, you'll probably recoil at the contents.

It's not a very good image, even taken in isolation. It's drawn by Ivan Reis, one of the DC's more popular artists over the last few years, and one who has obvious skills to back-up that popularity. He's drawn Wonder Woman plenty of times, most often and most recently in Justice League, and here he draws her as she's generally portrayed in the DC Universe. She's a fierce and violent warrior, shown here locked in bloody combat with a generic bad guy, apparently charging her way through some opponent/s while blood spray and sparks are everywhere, all the while strangling a zombie orc...thing...guy.

I never understood how her magic lasso became simply a glowing garrote. She usually throws it around people's throats, which I took just as various writers and artists striving to show how brutal and cruel she is. But it's a fucking magic lasso, that compels whoever it entwines to tell the truth and submit to Wonder Woman's will. Why's she always strangling people with it? Is she commanding that zombie orc thing guy, "Allow me to choke you with my lariat, while you struggle and claw at it as if you weren't under my control the whole time"...?

It's also just an all-around not that great image. It's such a close-up of Wonder Woman that one can't really tell what she's doing, other than shouting and strangling; her gaze is off the page, focused on...what? A horde of these guys? A villain of some sort? It looks like Reis cut a tiny part out of a larger image here.

Now, with DC's previous digital-first, rotating creators, continuity-lite anthology series Legends of the Dark Knight and Adventures of Superman, the covers rarely matched the interiors. Rather, it seemed as if DC just had a file of generic Superman and Batman images by various artist, and they would then just grab one at random to use as the cover for a print edition. That seems to be the case here, but a) it's not a great image, and b) no one seemed to think better of using it here.

Forget what Hibbs said, although it is important. If you look real close at this cover, you'll see the first person credited as a contributor is someone named "Hernandez." Do you know who that is? Only legendary cartoonist Gilbert fucking Hernandez, an incredible, stand-up-and-take-notice get for a random DC superhero comic, and instead of putting, say, a Giblert Hernadez drawing of Wonder Woman on the cover, they went with what looks like an over-colored commission piece by Reis, drawn for an autoerotic asphyxiation fetishizing fan.

Anyway, once you get past the cover, the insides of the book are actually totally awesome.

The first story, a 10-pager written by Sean E. Williams and drawn by Marguerite Sauvage, introduces us to a Wonder Woman who s playing guitar on stage at a rock show, either Williams is using "rock star" metaphorically to convey the character's rock star status, or because the continuity-free venue allows he and Sauvage to just make Wonder Woman a guitar-shredding rock star if they want, and they want.

After a brief recounting of her (Silver Age) origin (in which some of her powers come from males Mercury and Hercules), we see Wonder Woman's hang-up regarding Steve, her dealing with criticism of her revealing costume from two different directions, her attempts to help and empower a pair of young women and her use of super-strength to emasculate a male fan who goes from cluelessly over-complimenting her to touching her to pulling a shotgun on her rather ridiculously (although, again, maybe we're supposed to read the various elements as metaphors rather than plot points).

I'm not normally a fan of skirts over shorts when it comes to her costume, as I tend to think hewing to the original costumes is generally the best, but Sauvage finds a nice compromise by giving Wonder Woman a very short, very tight skirt.
So it fits like her shorts did, but provides more coverage (that is, it doesn't look like she simply forgot to finish getting dressed before she left the house), and the additional fabric allows room for a field of stars (I think she's down to just two stars in the New 52, because that's all the room she has left).

Her top is pretty tiny, and rather than choosing between the eagle motif or the WW motif, Sauvage just leaves it blank, additional gold trim and a prominent gold belt (or maybe just swathe of fabric) taking the place of the eagle or WW. So she still has the same amount of primary colors, just slightly rearranged.
Finally, I like Wonder Woman's default red boots with the white stripe. But I also liked those super-strappy ballerina-style shoes sandal/shoes she sometimes wore. Personally, I can never decide which I prefer. Sauvage comes up with a great compromise; she gives her the boots, but they have laces on the back.

When not on stage, Wondy puts on a red jacket with black trim that looks fashionable, and a little sci-fi as well.

Not to reduce the art to fashion, but that's what I most immediately noted and gravitated toward, given how elegantly Sauvage addressed and resolved a lot of the issues regarding what Wondy wears (you'll note Wonder Woman gets redesigned far more often than the other six members of the the original Justice League line-up).

The character designs are great, Wonder Woman appearing beautiful, dynamic and with a full range of emotions, all perfectly acted. Sauvage does interesting things with color throughout, matching the color of scenes to certain emotions, just as she plays with the panels to affect different moods (I'm not a big fan of panel manipulation like that). As I was reading, I couldn't help imagining what Sauvage's Wonder Woman the comic book would look like, now that I've seen her Wonder Woman, the character.
That story is followed by 10-page story written by an Ollie Masters and drawn by Amy Mebberson. This one could be in-continuity, featuring Catwoman in her Darwyn Cooke-designed costume attempting to rob a museum in London, where New 52 Wonder Woman is based (Well, Mebberson's costume is pre-New 52; she gives Wonder woman's costume gold rather than silver highlights, and the star-spangled blue shorts, rather than the black, two-stars-only shorts she wears now. And her boots are red instead of black).

Masters' story is smart, fun and funny, but not so funny that it can't also be taken seriously. Catwoman plans a robbery of a mythic artifact, but one that comes with a guardian attached to it that she can't possibly hope to defeat on her own. So she allows Wonder Woman to "capture" her.

Previously, I've only seen Mebberson draw Muppets (for Boom), so it was interesting seeing her tackle human beings. I love her artwork here, although I didn't care for the way the characters' heads looked too big for their bodies, similar to the Lil' Gotham designs I never quite took to. I like the heads and faces, and I like the bodies they're attached to, I just wish the ratio wasn't so skewed. Even still, that's a style thing, not a quality thing.
And, finally, there's six pages of Gilbert Hernandez, with "To Be Continued!" in the last panel; apparently the second half will appear in Sensation #4, unless there are more than two parts to his story. Kind of annoying that DC split his story up, particularly since I imagine there will be readers who read this issue just for his contribution/s (provided they can find it/them), but it's difficult to get too bent out of shape about it. It's a treat, however it's served.

Hernandez's Wonder Woman, as one can imagine, is truly Amazonian-looking; not in Marston's version of the Amazons, but in a more popular definition. Wonder Woman is toweringly tall, with big hips, big breasts and even bigger biceps. In terms of physique, she honestly looks like the female equivalent of Superman.

Hernandez's story, "No Chains Can Hold Her!" features Wonder Woman aboard a flying saucer, wailing on some charmingly generic robots, working for Sayyar an Kanjar Ro (both from Justice League #3, although the latter obviously went on to greater relative fame).

Wonder Woman's costume is a straight Silver Age one, and Supergirl, who also appears, is simiarly wearing her Silver Age duds, and acting as she would have at that time. So basically what we have here is Gilbert Hernandez homage to those original Gardner Fox/Mike Sekowsky JLA comics, drawn in his own style.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Huey, Dewey and Louie have never been so insulted in their whole lives.

Uncle Scrooge offers a theory as to why the people of Plain Awful might have decided to base their entire culture around Donald Duck instead of Huey, Dewey and Louie after that one time Donald and his three identical nephews visited them.

That gag is probably my favorite part of Don Rosa's "Return to Plain Awful," one of the stories collected in the second volume of Fantagraphics' Don Rosa Library, entitled Return to Plain Awful. You're gonna want to pick that up this week, or write yourself a note to do so in the near future, as it's a pretty great collection, and the title story's not even one of the better ones you'll find in it.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Review: Tales of The TMNT #5

The fifth issue of Tales of The TMNT proved a rather brilliant offering, one that's not only one of the best issues of that particular series I've read, but also one of the better Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles stories I've read, period. There's certainly a degree of gimmickry here, the book's form being quite unusual in its construction, but that form is also perfectly suited to the story being told. It fits perfectly with the ninja/martial arts aspect of the characters, and even the characters' origins as a reaction to Frank Miller's Daredevil comics, featuring the blind, ninja-fighting vigilante. Hell, it even makes perfect use of one of the TMNT comics' signature attributes: The fact that they're black and white.

Jim Lawson is the creator responsible, earning not only a credit for pencils, but also a solo credit for story. Peter Laird, who often shares story credits with editor Steve Murphy on this volume of Tales comics, provides the lettering and inks, although the book is so black and white, it's difficult to tell what's penciled and what's inked, or how the images were made, exactly.

Michael Dooney provides the obligatory "frontspiece" image, of Leonardo comforting a frightened Shadow, who is still a young child and who apparently just woke up from a bad dream, in her bedroom by flashlight. After that, the book is all Lawson and Laird, and told in the reverse silhouette style he employed in one of the short stories included in his Paleo comic.

That is, every panel of the story is a simple field of black, and the characters and pieces of their environment appear only as white silhouettes. These extend from the borders of the panels, which are placed upon bright, white pages, free of the gloss you find on many modern comics pages.
There are only two characters in the story, plus a third who at first seems quite incidental. We never see them as anything other than outlines in the black, however. As this is Lawson, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles artist, his Leonardo is completely recognizable, despite the fact that we never see any details (If you've read enough Turtles comics, then you know exactly how Lawson's Turltes look in profile, or the shape of their hands or Leon's sword handles, etc). His foe, a blind Foot ninja, is more mysterious in apperance; not only faceless, but completely featureless. We can see his shape, we know he's wearing a hat and can identify his weapons, but that's all we can really see of him.

The premise is pretty simple. "It's the last thing I saw..." Leonardo narrates, "...a cloud of tetsu-bishi...followed by the caltrops piercing my skin."

Leonardo's Foot foe hits him with a a score of little pointy projectiles, all covered in poison. It's not a lethal poison though, it merely blinds him. His opponent then waits for the blind Leonardo to realize what's happening and get to his feet, and then the battle resumes. Almost halfway through, the Foot ninja explains what's going on. In a previous battle, he was blinded by Leonardo—a battle that Leonardo doesn't even remember, he and his brothers have cut down so many Foot Clan ninja over the years—and the ninja was demoted to a weapon-polisher. He trained in secret though, until he became a master of blind-fighting.

He's back for a rematch, first stealing Leonardo's sight.
So the art is meant to evoke the way to the two character's "see" one another, themselves and their surroundings. They are good enough that they get the shape of things, they know who's who and what's where, but obviously they can't make out the details, like, for example, what colors their opponents are wearing, or the texture of a fence and so on.

Leonardo's narration, which tells most of the story that the art doesn't, appears in small, thin, white lettering, with no narration boxes; the letters reflect the look and feel of the art. What little dialogue there is in the story is similarly lettered white, the dialogue bubbles black with thin, white outlines giving them shape.

There's a sudden, sharp twist at the end that's strong enough to derail the story and even shock the reader, as the artwork lies to us in the way that Leonardo's senses lie to him, and he discovers too late that he was "reading" something wrong. With the transition of one panel tot he next, the silhouettes are altered slightly as Lawson's image reflects the sudden, too-late correction that Leonardo makes.

Our hero is handed an unequivocal, staggering defeat, even though he survives—as does his foe. The defeat is made all the more shocking and unusual given how abrupt the ending is. At the risk of spoiling such an old story, Leonardo attempts to finish off his foe, and finds out that he's actually run through an innocent bystander.
Surely he's not entirely responsible for the murder, as he was clearly manipulated into stabbing the guy—that was, after all, his foe's plan all along—but whatever the circumstances, Leonardo stabs an innocent man to death. And he only finds himself in this situation at all because of a previous fight that meant so little to him he doesn't even remember it.

The story probably seemed more powerful still because of how unusual it is to read comics of this sort in which the heroes regularly, readily kill their opponents—something few superheroes do, let alone similar characters who have been the basis for so much children's entertainment and merchandise over the last 30 years or so.

It can be difficult to remember that the Turtles are basically assassins with a seriously fucked-up, almost supervillainous origin story. They were trained from birth—well, from mutation—by their mentor and father figure for the sole purpose of carrying out the revenge killing of the guy who killed their master's master...because their master's master killed the brother of the guy who killed their master's master...because the brother of the guy who killed their master's master killed the lover of their master's master. Have I got all that right?

Anyway, the Turtles were bred for 15 years to kill Oroku Saki, The Shredder because he killed Hamato Yoshi, Splinter's owner/sensei-of-a-sort. In the process, they killed a whole bunch of Saki's ninja followers. That tends to get down-played in pretty much every Turtles story in every medium outside the very earliest comics.

Lawson remembers that aspect though, and uses it to fuel this pretty great done-in-one meditation on the destructive cycle of violence and vengeance that the Turtles are a part of.

I'm obviously not the only person impressed with the issue. Two years later, Lawson would continue the story started here in a special four-issue miniseries, entitled Tales of Leonardo: Blind Sight.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Comic Shop Comics: October 22

Arkham Manor #1 (DC Comics) There are two somewhat curious aspects of this book that will be quite apparent before one even starts reading, and discovers the rather curious premise: That Wayne Manor has become the new Arkham Asylum, so that Batman's greatest enemies are all now living in what used to be his house.

The first of those curious aspects is the title, which is just plain Arkham Manor rather than Batman: Arkham Manor; most comics featuring Batman in any way, shape or form generally put his name and a colon in the title, no matter how small his role in the proceedings may actually be (and, it's worth noting, Batman is the protagonist of this story, so it's not like it'd be a reach to have included his name in the title). This may reflect just how popular and pervasive those video games—Arkham Asylum, Arkham City, Arkham Origins—were. The word "Arkham" is, in and of itself, apparently now seen as enough to sell a comic book as well as the word "Batman" might sell a comic book.

The other curious aspect is the timing. This issue, the first of what is apparently meant to be an ongoing series (although surely this won't be a permanent change to mental health care in Gotham City), includes a little asterisk saying that "The events of this story take place after Batman Eternal #30," which doesn't actually ship until next week. And it's worth noting that the events of this story would seem to take place well after the events of Batman Eternal #30, as it sure seems like quite a bit of time has elapsed between the start of this issue and the events of the still-ongoing Batman Eternal series. Honestly, this seems like a comic book that could have waited until after the weekly it's spinning out of wrapped up...or at least started winding down.

As of the events of this week's issue of Batman Eternal, Arkham Asylum has become the demonic beachhead for an invasion of Earth from hell, its inmates transformed into half-human, half-animal monsters, and the embodiment of the wrath of God himself, The Spectre, is there to deal withe the problem. The opening pages of this issue spoils the results of The Spectre's methods for dealing with the problem, as it shows the Asylum collapsing while a beam of green light shoots up and out of it.

Oh, and Alfred Pennyworth has been committed to the asylum by Dr. Thomas "Hush" Elliot, who had previously mainlined Scarecrow'sfear toxin directly into Alfred's brain, rendering him completely insane with terror. Alfred's daughter, Julia, has been filling in for him in the Batcave. And as for Batman, he's busy trying to save the city from Hush's war-on-all-fronts attack on it.

But in this issue, the Asylum's already gone, Julia's MIA, Alfred is back to normal, Bruce Wayne has apparently somehow lost his fortune (?), he and Alfred have completely moved out of Wayne Manor and de-Batmanned the place, they found an apartment downtown and the city bought the Manor and its grounds and completely refurbished it into a state-of-the-art asylum for the criminally insane. And things in Gotham have calmed down sufficiently enough that Batman can launch himself into a long-term, undercover investigation of a pair of murders. That sounds like weeks, if not months, of activity.

For the most part, one doesn't need to know how writer Gerry Duggan got Batman from Point A (Batman Eternal) to Point B (this comic), although that bit about Bruce Wayne having "lost the family fortune" that gets mentioned in passing sounds like a big enough change in status quo that it bears some more detailing.

Taken on its own, divorced from the events of Batman Eternal—which might take some acceptance from and generosity on the part of the reader, given that the book is essentially a Batman Eternal spin-off—the comic's not a bad one, and is actually a pretty good first issue.

So yeah, Arkham Asylum was destroyed, the city doesn't know what to do with the dangerous lunatics kept there and ultimately the mayor seizes the abandoned Wayne Manor and turns it into "Arkham Manor." That's not sitting all that well for Batman and Alfred as is. But then an inmate gets brutally murdered. And then another inmate gets brutally murdered. So Batman takes the case, getting himself committed to Arkham (So yes, this is essentially the same plot as the "Last Arkham" story arc by Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle that opened the Batman: Shadow of The Bat ongoing back in 1992, only here Batman creates a new identity, rather than getting committed as Batman, as he did in the earlier story).

Duggan's plotting is pretty tight, and, as first issue's go, this one does everything it needs to, laying out the premise and dangling its hook, offering a reader enough information to know if this is something they want to read to see what happens next or if they want to quit while they're ahead.

I think there are a few missteps though, beyond the forces which Duggan likely couldn't control (Like what month they decided to put the damn thing on the schedule). The Joe Scarborough parody seemed pointlessly distracting, and the joke on page eight went too far, making Batman seem needlessly cruel to the point of being evil (I know Duggan is just trying to make a joke about Batman beating the hell out of street criminals, but the last two panels push a scene that worked perfectly well into the TOO FAR! territory, and Batman out of character, all for the sake of a joke that's not that funny, and could probably have been saved to use in different context somewhere down t he line; it was a rather Kevin Smith-y moment. UPDATE: See Chris Sims' review for more detail on the scene, discussed in a more efficient and entertaining manner than I discussed it here).
Seriously—I don't get it.
I can find no missteps at all with the artwork, however. That's provided by Shawn Crystal (with colors by Dave McCaig), and it's pretty much perfect: Crystal doesn't do anything wrong, he does everything right, and he's got a style that is completely unique to the Batman line. It reminds me here and there of the work of other artists, I got a slight sense of John McCrea here and there, and a bit of a Sean Murphy. There's the slightest touch of Greg Capullo to it...or at least enough that this book looks like one that's set in the same universe as Batman, something the other Bat-books generally don't have. I know I called Crystal's work "completely unique" and threw out some names, but I'm just using those names for reference points. His work isn't derivative of that of any of those guys; personally, I find myself more curious about who and what Crystal will get to draw in future issues, and how he'll get to draw it, rather than what happens in the plot. Obviously we'll see Batman, the only recurring Batman character aside from Alfred who gets any real panel-time this issue, facing familiar foes from Arkham in the near future (The Scarecrow, Misters Freeze and Zsasz and The Mad Hatter are on the cover, for whatever that's worth), and I look forward to seeing Crystal's versions of them.

Batman Eternal #29 (DC) Say, how long have Batwing and Jim Corrigan been in the caverns beneath Arkham Asylum now...? It's been weeks worth of story time, hasn't it? How is it that they haven't starved to death yet? Are all the ghosts and magic and hoodoo and whatnot going on down there keeping them alive somehow, even though they apparently haven't eaten, slept or gone to the bathroom for at least a couple of weeks? Or maybe time moves differently near open portals to hell? That would at least explain why the haunted Arkham sub-plot, like the nanotech virus/Red Robin and Harper Row sub-plot, seems to be moving much, much more slowly than those in which Batman himself is directly involved.

In this issue, Batman fights rioters and police officers, Batwing fights the possessed Arkhamites, the ghost of Deacon Blackfire does something, Hush does something too, The Joker's Daughter also does something, Corrigan erupts a column of green light and a clue The Riddler left a long time ago is finally deciphered and, despite it's solution serving as the cliffhanger moment at the very end of this issue, it's something very obvious and long-apparent.

The artwork this issue is provided by Simon Coleby, and while most of the individual panels look just fine, I had a very hard time telling just what the hell was going on during some pretty important-seeming junctures.

For example, I couldn't make heads or tails of Batwing's fight scene, which mostly involved him posing while surrounded by coloring effects and randomly, generically mutated monster zombie men; it wasn't until he gave a voice command recalling all of his pieces of armor that I realized he had spent the last few pages shooting bits of his Iron Man-like bat-suit at his opponents.
No idea what's going on here; I guess Batman is shooting a missile...out of...the palm of his hands...? The choreography in that scene is really confusing; a third reading, embarked upon as I write this, finally finds me understanding what's going on in the three panels after Batman apparently throws a self-propelled bat-missile like a spear. It's not very good, but I think I figured out what writer Ray Fawkes meant to have happen in those panels.

The last three panels on page four, involving Hush, a vial of blood, a cache of Bat-stuff and the sound effect "BIP"...? No idea. Hush has armed...something. Somewhere.

Batman '66 #16 (DC) Egghead is probably my favorite villain from the Batman '66 comics, if only because A) The fact that he was played by Vincent Price means he's the only villain's voice I can hear in my head, save for that of Burgess Meredith's Penguin, since my memories of watching the television show are so faded at this point (I can "hear" Batman and Robin and Commissioner Gordon just fine, but I can't really remember how many of the villains sounded), and B) I really like the constant egg puns. I think they're...what's the word?....eggcellent.

This issue, written as usual by Jeff Parker and illustrated by Brent Schoonover, features the sort of plot that might have appeared in the Batman comics of the late 1950s or maybe even early 1960s, but never would have made it into the show, given the expense it would take to actualize it for the screen. Egghead hyper-evolves himself to enlarge his brain (and thus his head), giving himself incredible mental powers. With those, he devolves Batman and Robin into cavemen...but "The Cavemen Crusaders" retain their mental faculties, despite their more bestial appearance.

You can probably guess how it all ends, but it's still engaging, despite the lack of suspense or tension.

Catwoman #35 (DC) Interesting book, this. Like this month's Batgirl #35, this issue comes with a completely new creative team, a completely new direction and a completely new costume (No costume!) for its protagonist, and that creative team is a very interesting one of the sort that wasn't working for DC Comics in the months leading up to the New 52-boot. In other words, like Batgirl #35, in many ways this book would appear to be like a better candidate for a rebooted Catwoman #1 than what DC actually launched as Catwoman #1 back in September of 2011.

Unlike Batgirl #35, however, this book gets its new direction from Batman Eternal, which it spins directly out of (It would probably have been possible to launch this as Catwoman #1 in 2011 still, but it would lack the relevance and, I suppose, popularity, of spinning directly out of a book co-masterminded by popular Batman writer Scott Snyder).

It has been revealed over the course of the weekly Batman series that Selina Kyle's mysterious real father was actually former Gotham crime lord Rex "The Lion" Calabrese (Catwoman's dad was The Lion get it?!?!?!) and, in last week's issue, Catwoman finally decided to take her old man's advice and inherit control of organized crime in Gotham City. It doesn't mean that Catwoman's made a heel turn—she's been portrayed as a pretty good bad guy, or a slightly bad good guy since at least the early 90s—as she came to that decision after watching the city tear itself apart when there was no one in control. In the pages of Batman Eternal, Catwoman apparently decided to become the benevolent dictator of the Gotham mob.

As with Arkham Manor, this issue seems to be set quite a few weeks after the most recent relevant events of Batman Eternal, but it's shipping date is more logical (Catwoman decided on this path in last week's issue), and there are no truly out-of-left-field developments like Arkham's mention of Bruce Wayne somehow going broke.

The change in direction, with writer Genevieve Valentine and artist Garry Brown doing the steering, is sharp enough that it's practically a change in drama, from street-level superheroics to a fairly straight crime comic (superhero Batman shows up for one scene, but other than that it's all criminals talking crime stuff). Crime comics set in the world of superheroics are nothing new, of course, and the book does in fact read a lot like something that Greg Rucka or Brian Azzarello might have written, but without any of their familiar and sometimes tiresome writing ticks, familiar after years and years of exposure to their writing. Valentine is a prose fiction writer and critic new to the writing of comics, and I don't see any of the obvious or expected weaknesses one generally finds in the work of new comics writer, particularly ones who come to the medium after working extensively in another written medium. There's an awful lot of narration, but only from the lead character, and it works just fine in this particular book, as it is tightly focused on that lead character, never leaving her for even a panel: It is, essentially, a first-person comic book, as far as the script and plot are concerned.

The book opens and returns to some quotes from Queen Elizabeth (the Cate Blanchett one, not the current one), which strikes me as a very 1990s DC thing, but as styles go, that's not a bad one to evoke at all.

Brown's art is similarly familiar to that of the superhero crime drama, with lee Lughridge giving it a rather subdued Vertigo-esque palette in which each scene only seems to have two or three different colors in it.

All in all, it doesn't look, read or feel like much of anything else DC is publishing right now, and I'm having difficulty matching it to any previous Catwoman runs or stories; given how old the character is and how many comics she's starred in at this point, that in an of itself is also something of an accomplishment.

Finally, the book read a lot longer than it's actual 20-page length. I'd certainly recommend it for anyone interested in checking the character out, or trying a new comic book-comic out this week or month.

As for the story, it seems set in the future, but the very near-ish future. Gotham City seems to be out of it's current horrible predicament—like, it's not all in flames, with ghosts and demons roaming its sewers and riots in the streets, at least—so I assume it takes place after the events of Batman Eternal...or, at least, closer to their conclusion.

Selina Kyle, dressed in the suit you see on the cover, with only her whip left over from her previous costume, has taken control of the Calabrese family, with her inner circle consisting of two very loyal young cousins and a second-in-command that doesn't seem to like or trust her and, in fact, is openly hostile and constantly questioning her. She seems to be the new Falcone-like figure, and is something of a civic-minded gang boss, re-investing in the city.

Meanwhile, Selina is trying to convince an Asian crime family to work with them, Batman doesn't like what Catwoman's up to and expresses his concerns during his eight-panel appearance, Black Mask would like to take over and someone other than Selina is wearing a Catwoman costume.

It seems like a very promising start; I hope it fulfills that promise.

The Multiversity: The Just #1 (DC) The latest issue #1 issue in the long-awaited, Grant Morrison-scripted, all #1 issues series comes with a cover evoking that of a J-14, Teen Beat-like magazine (shut up, I work in a library) and the eye-rolling title of "#earthme."

If you're worried about the prospect of an out-of-touch, middle-aged comic book writer spending the length of a coomic book clucking about the faults and foibles of the social media generation, well, I don't blame you; but you need not. This is, after all, still Grant Morrison, and it all works out pretty okay.

The title of the issue refers to the name of a fifth-generation super-team a pair of characters—one of whom is the original Green Arrow's granddaughter—are considering forming, before the book abruptly ends with a group of hacked-into Superman robots attacking a random city street (A sense of place is something unfortunately lacking from the artwork in this issue, and the final splash page seems at odds with the direction the script seemed to be going in).

The comic is, in actuality, more of an extended riff on Bob Haney and Dick Dillin's "Super-Sons" from 1973, with grown-up versions of Batman's biological son Damian Wayne and Superman's adopted son Chris Kent in the roles of Batman Jr. and Superman Jr. Set, as those identities reveal, in the pre-Flashpoint universe that seems to have allowed older generations of heroes to actually age and die.
I think I'd rather read about these guys then the New 52 Leagues.
So Kyle Rayner is Green Lantern (once again the last of the Green Lanterns), Connor Hawke is Green Arrow, Wally West is The Flash, Garth is Aquaman, Artemis is Wonder Woman and Ray Palmer, an outlier, is The Atom. The background is filled with pre-New 52 cameos (Chronos II, Max Mercury, Anima, Gunfire, Impulse, Kid Lobo, Mas y Menos, Wonder Girl Cassandra Sandmsark, Hourman III, Aqualad II, Aquagirl III, some Ravers, even The Protector), and there's an interesting assortment of now mostly lost characters with minor roles (Alpha Centurion, Argus, Gypsy, Bloodwynd, Dr. Mid-Nite II, Superboy Conner Kent, Steel Natasha Irons, Kingdom Come's The Joker's Daughter II/Harlequin II and The Kingdom's Offspring) and new characters (Metamorpho's daughter Megamorpho, Mister Miracle II's daughter Sister Miracle, the new Arrowette, etc).

In a world where Superman and his generation of heroes pretty much eradicated crime and solved all the world's problems, the greatest threats faced by the new generation of heroes are their own boredom and ennui. Before the late Lex Luthor managed to kill Superman, the Man of Steel was able to program his army of Superman robots to take care of pretty much everything (ala the "Superman: King of the World"/Dominus plotline from the early '00s). So now the heroes worry about things like who is and who isn't invited to parties and, for the World's Finest, the fact that Chris Kent doesn't like the fact that Damian is now dating Alexis Luthor.

That changes when one of the younger, newer heroes commits suicide, and a few characters begin to suspect it has something to do with this supposedly haunted comic book (Morrison features a nice, if weird, homage or reference to his own work, in choosing the character who dies, and the reaction of one of the characters, a fairly perfect echo of his own JLA #5).

Morrison includes some of his now probably to-be-expected commentary on the comics industry, with Offspring saying how he much he prefers Marvel (analogue) comics to DC (analogue) comics, and noting how dumb it is that they're killing off everyone in their Ultimate (analogue) line.

I wasn't quite sure what to make of this scene, although there is delight in the sheer surprise of a character in a DC comic book referring to The Sandman as "The Sandman? Neil Gaiman's Sandman?"...
A nice, almost throwaway three-panel exchange that still manages to help define the character of this Batman and his relationship to this Superman.

I have to say I really rather enjoyed this particular installment, perhaps moreso than the previous ones, and I suspect that has a lot to do with the simple fact that this one is set in a world that appears to simply be a future version of the DC Universe I grew up reading, and have spent the most time in and thus have the strongest feelings for.

I suppose it helps, too, that Grant Morrison is writing it, and that the designs on so many of the costumes are so sharp. I don't really like the look of the two new Super-Sons, but Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Aquaman? Yeah, I like those (Also? It's just kinda nice to see a character like Garth again and remember, "Oh yeah, he still exists...just not in version of their fictional universe that DC Comics' line is currently devoted to chronicling).

The art in this issue is provided by Ben Oliver, with Dan Brown assisting with colors. I don't care for his style, which looks a lot like the cover of a Marvel comic from the earlier '00s. The acting is fine, and the panel-to-panel reading experience okay, but, as I've already mentioned, there's no sense of place, thanks to the minimal backgrounds. Batman's apartment in Gotham City, the Nevada dessert, Sasha Norman's Malibu home, a Suicide Slum art gallery, the streets of Metropolis, everything looks the exact same, and its all overly-lit, like an old-fashioned TV that needs its dials adjusted, and colored in the same over-exposed palette.

It was the worst-looking of the Multiversity books so far, but then, the series has some of the best artists who work for DC lined-up to draw them. Overall, it was probably the best script Morrison's produced for the series so far, in that it is actually a complete story all its own (the previous issue, set on the pulp-inspired world, just sort of wandered off, as it was meant to feed into the series' conclusion. I expect this book will too, but Morrison doesn't structure the story around the mega-story of The Multiversity as blatantly here; the plot elements from the previous books are present, but are not the focus).

And I just kind of appreciate the fact that the book was strong enough that I went and checked the indica during a certain point, when Batman combs through a comic book collection of one of the characters, only to discover that the comics' publishing indica say they came from cities that don't exist...on that Earth.

The New 52: Future End #25 (DC) The new StormWatch fights Brainiac robots in space! Fifty-Sue's crew fights one another, verbally! Bearded, shirtless Superman fights the Brainiac robot that looks like Parasite! And Jason Rusch and Ronnie Raymond fight, also verbally! But there's a push, too. So, action-packed issue, I guess, drawn by Patrick Zircher, Jesus merino and Dan Green. I suspect the book will get more interesting when we next check in with StormWatch, as they escape Brainiac and his legion of robots by jumping into The Multiverse. Who knows where they'll land? (Hopefully anywhere but Earth 2, as I'm pretty sick of that place).

Scour the cover and you'll see such unlikely characters as pre-New 52, J'onn J'onnz, Plastic Man, Jim Balent's Catwoman, and Silver Age Krypto...but don't get too excited; they're likely just random characters cover artist Ryan Sook chose to illustrate the fact that the red stuff in the background is The Bleed between Earths in the Multiverse.

She-Hulk #9 (Marvel Entertainment) Do people stop reading a book once they hear it's been canceled? I hope not. Otherwise, they'll miss some really great Javier Pulido artwork in this issue, including a quite lovely two-page, landscape sequence in which Daredevil puckishly induces She-Hulk to chase him around the San Francisco skyline.

Also, there's a pretty good banana joke occurring in the background of one scene.

The story continues the one from the previous issue, without resolving it yet: Captain America is being sued for his pre-Captain America actions that led to the death of a young man. Is he really guilty? Cap himself seems interested in having the American legal system determine that for him, as he's asked his friend Matt Murdock to take the case and fight as hard as he can to get a guilty verdict, while Jen Walters defends him. That's such a Cap thing to do, isn't it?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Meanwhile, at Robot 6...

I've only got one piece at a website that is not this website this week, a review of Tim Hanley's Wonder Woman Unbound at Robot 6.

You can go read it now, if you like, and then come back and we can talk a little bit more about it.


Are you back?

Cool. So, as I noted over there, Hanley doesn't spend a whole lot of time on the post-Perez, "modern age" of Wonder Woman comics. In fact, here's pretty much everything he has to say about the Wonder Woman comic proper during the time in which I was aware of Wonder Woman comics (I didn't read the John Byrne run as it was ongoing—I think Phil Jimenez's was when I first picked up the title—but I do recall flipping through the Byrne run in my hometown mall's Waldenbooks, back when my hometown still had a mall, and there were still Waldenbooks):
John Byrne took over as writer and artist after Messner-Loebs left and largely ignored everything that had happened before. He moved Wonder Woman to the fictional Gateway City, gave her a new supporting cast, and even killed her for a few issues. The book wasn't terrible, but nor was it particularly good. By the mid-1990s, the series had settled into a middling quality with middling sales, and it never came back in any lasting way.

There were some good moments: Phil Jimenez's run on the book as writer and artist is very well respected; writer Greg Rucka was twice nominated for an Eisner, the comics industry's biggest award, while writing Wonder Woman; and Gail Simone became the series' first regular female writer. There were occasional sales jumps, but they quickly petered out. Another relaunch in 2006 lit up the sales charts briefly, but delays and a tie-in to Amazons Attack, a poorly executed miniseries in which the Amazons invaded America, soon dragged the book down. When Wonder Woman was renumbered to mark its 600th issue overall, J. Michael Straczynski came onboard as writer and sales rose initially until Straczynski abruptly left the book. Then sales plummeted again.
Hanley probably did DC a favor by not bringing up Jodi Picoult, which is still maybe the most mind-bogglingly self-defeating screw-up I've seen from the publisher. They scored one of the most popular and successful prose writers of the day, and then forced her to write some dumb-ass Amazons Attack tie-in instead of doing, say, anything at all she wanted to do (All-Star Wonder Woman, for example). He also probably does Brad Meltzer a favor by not mentioning the writer by name, despite spending a few paragraphs tearing apart Identity Crisis.

Still, I found it pretty astounding how much he skims over there, essentially reducing about 20 years worth of Wonder Woman comics into just two paragraphs.

After I finished writing my review of the book, I saw it still had a bunch of strips of press releases and the corners of empty sugar packets sticking out of it here and there where I marked something I thought I might want to mention in the review or follow up on here later.

Let's talk about those too, shall we?

First, I was really intrigued by this passage from Hanley's section of the book dealing with her 1968-1972 mod era, during which she lost her powers and costume:
For over twenty-five years, Wonder Woman had been kind-hearted and peaceful, using force only when her diplomatic solutions were rejected. This all changed with the mod Diana Prince; her anger perpetually boiled just below the surface and erupted with anysort of provocation. Violence was her response to nearly every situation.


In an issue ominous titled "Red for Death!" Diana traveled to China and ended up strafing Chinese fighter jets with a massive machine gun. Another story arc had Diana trapped in the interdimenstional kingdom of Chalandro, where she killed at least twenty men with blazing sword work before she was captured. Diana later escaped, joined a local rebel group, and taught them to make gunpowder. She and her fellow rebels then shot down the enemy's air ships with cannons,blowingup the gas-filled and heavily manned flying machines. Diana's solution for any problem was to hit it or blow it up or, more often than not, kill it.
I found it intriguing because I associate the hot-headed, violence-first, killing's-not-so-bad, ultimate warrior version of Wonder Woman with the modern age. I've long assumed it was a sort of unfortunate result of the popularity of Kingdom Come, in which she played a sort of Lady Macbeth role in Superman's decision-making process, pushing him to become a bad guy, who we could root for Batman to beat (And she does so in much more extreme fashion in the Injustice: Gods Among Us comics, which are heavily influenced by Kingdom Come).

There are other factors that may have contributed to Wonder Woman becoming  a violence-monger always willing to resort to deadly force, of course: The portrayal differentiated her from her fellow Trinitarians Superman and Batman, it played off of the concept of the Amazons as a Classical Age warrior race (instead of the utopians Marston re-created them to be), it seemed to fit in better with the mythological milieu that got increasing play in Wonder Woman comics and, finally, it helped serve as an over-correction for fears on the part of the writers, artists and editors working on her that a female character wouldn't be seen as a bad-ass enough character.

Hanley, however, traces this violent streak in Wonder Woman all the way back to the Bronze Age of comics. I guess Wondy's willingness to kill comes and goes...?

In a rather long section (for this particular book) discussing Wonder Woman and feminism, I found this passage quite striking:
It's quite impressive that [Gloria] Steinem and company were able to translate Marston's particular feminisim into something that resonated with a modern audience. It was a fascinating evolution of the character, and one that made Wonder Woman relevant for the first time in decades. While it may have been an inaccurate depiction of Marston's Wonder Woman, what's more significant is that Wonder Woman meant so much to these women and that they were able to remake her into a massively popular feminist icon. Authorial intent is important, but writing isn't a one-way street. What resonates with readers and what they see in a character is just as relevant, and Steinem and her friends saw a fantastic role model in Wonder Woman.
That bit about writing not being a one-way street is probably particularly important when it comes to Wonder Woman, as the feminists of the 1970s were hardly the first readers to see what they wanted in Marston's Wonder Woman comics, nor were they the last. A lot of people have their own personal Wonder Woman, and I often think that the "wrong" Wonder Womans are the ones that are embraced by the most people. Certainly the Wonder Woman of the TV show, of Superfriends and the Justice League cartoons, of Greg Rucka or Gail Simone's runs are more pervasive then Marston's version, despite the fact that he had what seems to me an unusual amount of control over his least compared to some of Wonder Woman's peers from around that time.

Marston was the only writer on any Wonder Woman comics for the first six years of her fictional life (at which point Marson passed away, and Robert Kanigher took over as writer/editor for a few decades).

Superman, Batman and Captain Marvel had several different men writing and drawing them during their developmental years, and in some cases they were rather forcefully and famously pried away from the control of their creators (Superman) or were a case of creation-by-committee from the outset (Batman). Additionally, those three supermen all spawned movie serials and radio shows that cross-pollinated their comics iterations, whereas Wonder Woman didn't have the same multi-media success during her formative years (and never would catch up to Batman and Superman in that regard; I think she's surpassed Captain Marvel by this point, her 1970s live-action TV show proving more popular than his, and her cartoon appearances dwarfing his, thanks to her Justice League membership).

It was likely circumstance as much as anything else—Marston being older and having more power relative to his publishers than Joel Siegel and Joe Shuster did, for example, or Superman proving more popular than Wonder Woman—but the original Golden Age Wonder Woman ended up being much more the product of her creator and her creator's collaborator, artist H.G. Peter, than many other heroes of the era.

Marston's vision of the character has been eclipsed over the decades, and, I'd argue, to the character's detriment. But, as Hanley wrote, writing's not a one-way street and, right or wrong, good or bad, Wonder Woman endures, having taken on a life of her own, one given to her by decade after decade of fans, who see what they want to in the character, rather than what she was conceived as.

I didn't post anything last night because I couldn't put Star Wars: Dark Times Omnibus Vol. 2 down.

Yesterday was Wednesday, and after reading a decent-sized stack of new singles from the comic shop, I would normally sit down and start reviewing them immediately for my off-the-cuff, typo-ridden regular feature "Comic Shop Comics." But a copy of Star Wars: Dark Times Omnibus Vol. 2 had just come into the library for me that day, and I thought I'd read a little bit of that before doing any comics blogging. Once I started, I couldn't stop reading though, and the damn thing was 450-pages.

I really liked those two volumes of that particular series of Star Wars comics, all written by Randy Stradley and mostly drawn in a beautiful, painterly style by Douglas Wheatley. They are set after the end of the prequel trilogy (Revenge of the Sith) and before the start of the original trilogy (A New Hope, or, as we called it when I was a kid, "Star Wars"), when there are a handful of Jedi knights still left in the galaxy, having survived the great Jedi purge at the climax of Reveng, and Darth Vader is still a hot, young, new super-bad-ass space wizard (as in the comics with Darth Vader in the title, he is crazy powerful in these, like Superman with a costume designed by Batman and Doctor Doom). The Republic is still transitioning into The Empire, so while they are the bad-guys, a lot of them aren't as bad as the generic villains they will eventually become.

Stradley follows a couple of these surviving Jedi, the crew of space-pirate types (all of them interesting-looking aliens save one female human, and they seem to be "new" aliens rather than one of the 10 or 12 different races that keep popping up in Star Wars stuff), and Darth Vader. Their paths all criss-cross in various ways, often directly, sometimes less so, throughout the 1,000 pages or so that make Dark Times. Stradley devotes the most attention to a character with the name Dass Jennir, a white-haired human Jedi who seems to change his look for each adventure.

I think that one thing that appealed to me personally was the simple fact that this time period wasn't completely alien to me, as some of the "Expanded Universe" stuff is (like, the stuff set centuries before the movies, or in the decades after Return of the Jedi), but it was also fresh and new, in that it didn't have much of anything to do with the lame plot-lines of the prequel trilogy, nor did it spend time constantly foreshadowing the original trilogy. In other words, it was new without being alien; it was a Star Wars that felt like a Star Wars, without being derivative of what I normally think of as Star Wars.

Stradley also really plays with the genre inspiration of the original conception of Star Wars. Large passages of the second volume read like they could very easily have been samurai movies, or westerns or sword-or-sorcery fantasies, only with, you know, aliens and robots and spaceships. Blue Harvest, the story arc that kicks off the second omnibus, would really only need to recast the aliens as Japanese guys to be a samurai story; they even all use swords—not light sabers, but swords—and, for the most part, dress like people from feudal Japan.

I also liked the droid character H2, a floating droid that, for much of his story arc acts like an asshole petulant teenager (a more amusing personality to R2-D2's pluck and spunk, or C3-P0's cluleless know-it-all-ism and prissy, easily shocked, scared or insulted sense of decorum).

And then there's that gorgeous Wheatley art. He's pretty damn incredible at every aspect of comics storytelling. I like his aliens, the humanoids and the wild animals and beasts of burden, many of which seem "new" to me. I like his fashion and ship design. And he draws really quite excellent action scenes.

As far as I can tell, these two collections represent all of the Dark Times material, and while it does seem to get a decent enough conclusion to several of the storylines, there are still threads left hanging and, one curious aspect of the Star Wars universe being that everything gets completely told eventually, I was sort of expecting there was much more to come. Perhaps the license for Star Wars comics moving from Dark Horse to Marvel has precluded that possibility.

I don't know. After reading these—And you guys know how hard I am to please, right? How demanding I am of even genre comics?—I actually felt a little, well, sad that Marvel is taking over Star Wars. With the projects they've announced so far, it seems like they will be pulling creators from the regular stable that handles all their superhero comics, albeit some of the bigger and most popular names. I do hope someone at Marvel has the good sense to hire some of these Dark Horse creators and/or editors to work on their Star Wars line with them though. Dark Horse has produced some pretty good Star Wars comics over the years. And they've produced some damn fine ones, too.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Marvel's January previews reviewed

There are only five books that Marvel Entertainment plans to publish in January of next year that will sell for $2.99. Of those, three are non-Marvel Universe books tying in to mass media adaptations of other Marvel comics, and two of those are aimed at kids: Marvel's The Avengers #2, Marvel Universe Ultimate Spider-Man: Web Warriors #3 and Marvel Universe Avengers Assemble Season Two #3. Of the the other two, one is She-Hulk, which is publishing it's last issue, and the other is Ms. Marvel.

All of the new books launching in February will carry a $3.99 price tag (or higher, due to higher page-count), so, come February of next year, Ms. Marvel will be the only Marvel comic not tied directly into a cartoon show for kids that isn't $2.99. It's take a few years to get here, but Marvel is now at the point where they've almost completely purged their entire line of $2.99 books.

In theory, DC should be kicking their asses then, but I'm afraid there is a quality gap between the output of the two publishers that makes up for the price gap between the two; that is, DC's advantage of publishing a whole bunch of comics that are as much as 33% cheaper than Marvel's comics is rendered moot by the fact that Marvel seems to publish more higher-quality books.

Of late, DC has launched a few quirkier books that don't look or read like anything else in their line though, so maybe that quality gap is going to be something the publisher becomes conscious of and seeks to close.

On the other hand, the Big Two are basically just multi-media IP farms now anyway, so who really cares?

Aside from us, of course. For Marvel's complete solicitations, click here; for my complete commentary on a handful of those solicitations, scroll down.

• THOMAS "TORO" RAYMOND emerges from his INHUMAN cocoon with new powers and new enemies. Can JIM HAMMOND, NAMOR and NEW CAPTAIN AMERICA SAM WILSON help their colleague through his dangerous rebirth?
• Guest Starring KILLRAVEN and the INHUMANS.
32 PGS./Rated T+ ...$3.99

I recently read a trade paperback collection of The Torch re-read Invaders Now, my interest rekindled by All-New Invaders Vol.1.

I was a little surprised by the quite small All-New line-up of just Captain America, The Winter Soldier, Namor and the original Human the original Vision. At the very least, I would have expected to see Toro, who like Cap, Bucky and Torch, is now a man out-of-time...he's actually in worse shape than Cap and Bucky, who have at least been in the present long enough to make friends and find purposes in their lives.

Well, it looks like Toro's finally being introduced to the book, as are Union Jack and Spitfire (the latter two of whom played roles in Invaders Now). I don't know if I like the sound of Toro emerging from an "INHUMAN cocoon with new powers," as I'm not entirely sure what's going on with The Inhumans at the moment (And can a mutant be transformed into an Inhuman, the same way humans can...?).

Also, considering how the first story arc ended—with Cap, Namor and Torch deciding to continue to hang in large part because they like one another's company and forged bonds during World War II—I'm not sure how replacing Steve Rogers with Sam Wilson might effect the series.

I guess I'll find out eventually....

Damn, that's some cover for All-New Ultimates #12, David Nakayama...

Cover by Kris Anka
• You know your friends from growing up? The ones you went to high school with, and are to-this-day some of the people who know you best?
• Well, imagine there are only five kids in your high school, and you're all hated and feared by the world around you.
• Sometimes, it's nice to take a step back and realize that what you've been told is your "team" is really something much better—your best friends.
32 PGS./Rated T ...$3.99

So I'm pretty sure that this was the first time I finished reading a solicitation to a comic book and said "Aw" aloud to myself.

Looks like Bobby's reading Ms. Marvel, for what it's worth; he must have spent the $1 he saved by buying it instead of any other Marvel comic on that candy bar.

Cover by Mark Brooks
• Scott Lang has never exactly been the world's best super hero. Heck, most people don't even think he's been the best ANT-MAN -- and the last guy invented Ultron and joined the Masters of Evil, so that's saying something.
• But when the SUPERIOR IRON MAN calls with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Scott's going to get a chance to turn it all around and be the hero he's always dreamed of being.
• Sure he's been to prison! Sure he's been through a messy divorce! Sure he's been, um... dead. But this time is different! This time nothing is gonna stop the astonishing ANT-MAN!
40 PGS./Rated T+ ...$4.99
*Each variant will be a unique cover with Ant-Man at a different size and each cover will be numbered- Marvel will only produce as many as ordered. Check and upcoming Diamond Daily stories for more information on this special variant.

I don't really get the sad-sack, no-respect tone of the solicitation copy here, given Ant-Man Scott Lang's big-ass victory at the climax of FF. Nor can I really make sense of variant cover scheme mentioned above (and that is, of course, in addition to the four other variant covers).

This is one of those Marvel comics that I'd happily buy in single issue format—I like Nick Spencer a whole lot, and I like Ant-Men, particularly this one after FF—but, given it's price tag (which I assume will shrink to $3.99 with #2), I will likely just wait for the trade. And rather than buy that trade, I'll likely just borrow it from the library. And so Marvel gets no money from me for Ant-Man.

Michael Del Mundo does another fantastic cover for Elektra #10.

• ‘Nuff said!
32 PGS./Rated T+ ...$3.99

Based on everything I've seen about that "Spider-Verse" story so far, I think a SHIELD uniform is about the only costume Spider-Man hasn't worn yet. Give him a black Spidey mask with white eyes, and he's good to go...

A skull-mask to go with your skull shirt? Really, Frank? Jeez, get a pair of pants with a big skull on the crotch and you can be a snowman of skulls...

• The end of the Blue File...and the end of an era!
• But when one door closes, another one opens, and Jen finds herself face to face with her most important case yet.
32 PGS./Rated T+ ...$2.99

Well, that's one way for Soule to lighten his work load...

I'm really sad to see this one go, as it's been great fun so far, and it and the also-cancelled Superior Foes of Spider-Man were the last two Marvel books I was reading serially.

Awesome Silver Surfer cover by Mike Allred.

BLANK VARIANT COVER also available
Luke Skywalker and the ragtag band of rebels fighting against the Galactic Empire are fresh off their biggest victory yet—the destruction of the massive battle station known as the Death Star. But the Empire's not toppled yet! Join Luke along with Princess Leia, smugglers Han Solo and Chewbacca, droids C-3PO and R2-D2 and the rest of the Rebel Alliance as they strike out for freedom against the evil forces of Darth Vader and his master, the Emperor. Written by Jason Aaron (Original Sin, Thor: God of Thunder) and with art by John Cassaday (Astonishing X-Men, Uncanny Avengers), this is the Star Wars saga as only Marvel Comics could make it!
48 PGS./Rated T ...$4.99

I usually edit out the variant cover info because there's usually a whole bunch of it and also because I hate variants and think they are generally a very bad thing for the comics industry, particularly when they occur as frequently as they do. I just thought I'd leave them in for this one though, just to show how ungodly many of them there actually are on this issue, and to note the fact that I have no idea what things like "Party Variant" or "Teaser Variant" actually mean. Hopefully retailers have that sort of stuff explained to them before they have to order these damn things.

The image up top is the Skottie Young variant which, as far as I can tell at this juncture, is the sole good news to come out of Marvel getting the license back after Dark Horse's super-fruitful stewardship of it over the course of the last few decades.

I'm a little surprised at the particular time in Star Wars history they're covering, if only because that's exactly what the last big Dark Horse series covered (the Brian Wood-written one, also just called Star Wars), it's also the time period that the original Marvel Star Wars comics of the late 1970s and early 1980s covered and I assume that the "expanded universe" novels and suchlike are just lousy with stuff set then, but I could be wrong. While I just re-watched all seven feature films with a friend over the course of the last month or two, and I've been reading some Darth Vader comics (oh, and Dark Times Omnibus Vol. 1, which I didn't write about), I'm extremely inexpert about Star Wars continuity...maybe because I've devoted so much brain-space to that of the DC Universe and chunks of the Marvel Universe.

Wait a minute here. Long blonde hair, beard, shirtlessness, robot arm—Is Thor gradually turning into 1990s Aquaman?

Variant Cover by Arthur ADAMS
• Wolverine, Deadpool, Doctor Doom, Thanos: There's one hero that's beaten them all—and now she's got her own ongoing series! (Not that she's bragging.)
• That's right, you asked for it, you got it, it's SQUIRREL GIRL! (She's also starting college this semester.)
• It's the start of a brand-new series of adventures starring the nuttiest and most upbeat super hero in the world!
32 PGS./Rated T+ ...$3.99

Now this is interesting.

Marvel's been making a very noticeable effort to try new solo series starring female protagonists, some of which have sold surprisingly well (Ms. Marvel) and some of which haven't (She-Hulk). They've also been putting some effort into producing more off-beat series with their own identities (What Andrew Wheeler once memorably referred to as the "Hawkeyezation" of Marvel's solo titles at Comics Alliance).

This looks like it could fit into both categories, although if you look at the art style of artist Erica Henderson and note the name of the writer, this book seems to be almost a direct answer to he success of Boom Studios' Lumberjanes and other popular-with-everybody-books (North, after all, has been writing Boom's Adventure Time).

Also of note? Squirrel Girl is noticeably less Barbie doll in appearance, even in Arthur Adams variant cover, than she has been typically depicted.

I'm not crazy about the adjective in the title, since "Squirrel Girl" is such a perfect name for a character as is, and I actively hate the $4 price tag, the latter of which puts this in "Maybe check it out in trade if the reviews are good" category rather than something I'd read serially via pull-list.

• From the ashes of AXIS an all-new, all different Avengers assemble!
• The tragedy at the end of AXIS has left the Uncanny Avengers vulnerable, and someone is taking advantage of it.
• One of the Avengers oldest foes returns with a terrible secret that will, all hyperbole aside, shatter the lives of two members of the squad.
• What is Counter-Earth? What terrible secrets does it house?
32 PGS./Rated T ...$3.99

Well, it's not an all-new, all different Avengers line-up—Rogue and Scarlet Witch are still there. The concept of the "Avengers Unity Squad" seems somewhat muddied by the presence of Brother Voodoo, who was neither Avenger nor X-Men (or was he Avenger for, like, seven issues somewhere during the Bendis run...?), and without long-time, original line-up Avengers Wasp, Thor and Steve Rogers, and mutant revolutionary Scott Summers' brother Alex, the premise of the original series seems to shifting quite a bit.

But, having no idea what actually will happen in Axis, there might be a very, very good reason for that shift.

Not fond of the costumes, although everyone's certainly worn worse in the past. Rogue's hood-but-exposed cleavage never quite seemed right to me, like she's trying to hide her face and show off her boobs simultaneously. But it's just a single issue, and might include a zipper I can't see that Acuna just happened to draw more down than up.

UNCANNY X-MEN #30 & 31
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS (W) • Chris Bachalo (A)
Issue #30 -
In the fallout from AXIS, the Uncanny X-Men return to the Xavier school to lick their battle wounds. But for some, the events that transpired may have left a deeper wound than anyone realizes. Wounds heal, but sometimes the scars become too much to bear, and the ruby glasses come off.
Issue #31 -
As the fallout from AXIS continues, the Uncanny X-Men seem to be searching for an identity. Viewed as terrorists by revolutionaries by teachers by their students. If odd ones at that. But some don't see the grey. For those whose world is black and white, the wrongs will add up...and they will see RED.
32 PGS. (EACH)/Rated T+ ...$3.99 (EACH)

Wow, that is some particularly, noticeably terrible writing in the solicitation copy for these books. The last sentences of each made me laugh out loud. Particularly that last sentence for #30, which has way too many metaphors going on.


Although one of the characters in the book literally wears ruby glasses, like actual glasses made of actual ruby quartz, so I guess maybe that's not meant to be a metaphor at all, nor is the bit about seeing red in the copy for #31...?

X-MEN #23
• The start of a brand new story penned by MS. MARVEL creator G. WILLOW WILSON!
• When a sinkhole appears under mysterious circumstances in the middle of the Black Rock Desert, the X-Men go to investigate...
• But little do they suspect that the phenomenon has connections to old allies...and enemies!
32 PGS./Rated T+ ...$3.99

Hey, check it out! That all-female X-Men team book that everyone was so excited about when it launched (but was actually super terrible), the one that was written by creepy old Brian Wood, is now going to be written by a woman. That's cool; Wilson's solo writing has been hit-or-miss for me (I haven't read Ms. Marvel yet), but Wood's run so bad, I can't imagine she could do much worse if she tried.

Oh, and hey, maybe it will have a female artist too, as it doesn't look like they've figured out who's drawing it yet. Better hurry guys; January's only a couple months away. Need ideas? Ask Janelle.