Thursday, December 18, 2014

Comic Shop Comics: December 17

Batman Eternal #37 (DC Comics) Tim Seeley scripts and Andrea Mutti draws this issue, which checks in with a variety of characters and a few plotlines we haven't seen in a while. These include 1.) Catwoman's new role as Gotham City Kingpin of Crime, which here makes her seem quite a bit like a new version of The Penguin (including her own themed casino), 2.) Luke "Batwing" Fox, whose armor has apparently picked up some kind of ghost infection on account of his investigation of Akrham Asylum, 3.) Killer Croc, who lost his people and home after the asylum collapse, 4.) Jason Bard, who came awfully close to killing Batman in the previous issue and failed and, finally, the "name" Arkham inmates who escaped: Bane, Mister Freeze, Poison Ivy, The Scarecrow, Clayface and Joker's Daughter (This last bit confused me, as we saw Freeze and I thought also Clayface get captured by Batman and the GCPD, and Bane taken down by Alfred).

Lumberjanes #9 (Boom) With the first arc complete, this issue offers a one-issue vacay for regular artist Brooke Allen. Filling in for her are seven artists for a sort of campfire Canterbury Tales anthology issue, or, as the credits page puts it, "A Flippin' Sweet Susan B. Anth-Ology!" Ha, feminism jokes! I'll discuss this ish in greater detail elsewhere, just be advised this exists and its awesome. Look for the Chynna Clugston Flores cover, and join me in lamenting that we don't get to see Chynna Clugston Flore art more often.

The New 52: Futures End (DC) Sadly, nothing at all like this cover occurs within this particular issue. Well, Fifty Sue does briefly don a Deathstroke helmet and refer to herself by the new codename of "Sequel," but her helmet lacks holes for pigtails. Also, no orange and black tutu and utility belt.

What does happen? Eh, Stormwatch vs. SHADE, the new Firestorm vs. the new Dr. Polaris, Batman Beyond and Plastique talk on a rooftop and boring business involving King Faraday, Sgt. Rock, Lana Lang and Grifter. Aaron Lopresti and Stephen Thompson pencil different parts of it, while Art Thibert and Thompson both ink. I like certain parts more than other parts, visually, and I'm assuming those were the Lopresti/Thibert parts, but I'm not 100% certain.

The Multiversity: Thunderworld Adventures #1 (DC) This is the issue in which artist Cameron Stewart, colored by Nathan Fairbairn, joins writer Grant Morrison to tell a story set on Earth-5, the new, numerical designation for what used to be known as Earth-S, the Earth in the original DC Multiverse upon which Captain Marvel lived, after DC acquired the character from Fawcett.

So it's Grant Morrison and Cameron Stewart doing a Captain Marvel comic or, in other words, it's apparently a comic book created just to make me happy.

And it did. It's as close to perfect a Captain Marvel comic as I could imagine. Wait, scratch that, I couldn't have imagined this particular Captain Marvel comic book, which is a large part of why it was so delightful. While it had many of my favorite elements of Captain Marvel and his incredibly rich cast and milieu, they were all presented in interesting and fresh ways.

It's Captain Marvel and The Marvel Family (the extended Marvel Family), versus Dr. Thaddeus Bodog Sivana (who uses his full name and everything), Sivana's children (Magnificus included) and The Monster Society of Evil, with the life of The Wizard Shazam, and the entire world, no the entire universe, no the entire Multiverse at stake! Sivana's plan, naturally, includes him naming shit after himself and, interestingly, refreshingly, Morrison downplays the "Shazam" (As The Wizard Shazam is the only character called "Shazam," and he even thinks up a title that doesn't include "Shazam" in it) and eschews using Black Adam, who has become the most ubiquitous character from the Fawcett family of characters, oddly enough (He appears in this week's Futures End for example; Captain Marvel, now called Shazam, does not).

There are additionally a few other nice digs at DC's continuous fucking up of these characters, some of which Morrison has contributed to, directly or indirectly. Sivana's plot comes so close to working because he's allied himself with his counterparts on various parallel worlds, one of which is a scary blood-soaked parody of a "dark" version of the character:
(The Infinite Sivanas are one of the more rewarding gags in the book, as we see Baby Sivana, Luchadore Sivana, Punk Rock Sivana, etc).

And then there's the newly empowered Georgina Sivana, part of The Sivana Family and highly reminiscent of the "dark" phase Mary Marvel went in and out of and back into during Countdown and Final Crisis, confronting Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr.
Dig the shape of Georgina Sivana's sigil, too; it look a bit like Marvel-ous lightning, and a bit like a stylized S.

Morrison and Captain Marvel are really a perfect match of creator and concept, given the former's affection for, and perhaps even obsession with, the intersection of magic and words and superheroes. Like Mr. Mxyzptlk and Johnny Thunder's Thunderbolt (who Morrison included in his old JLA arc "Crisis Times Five!"), Captain Marvel is the character Grant Morrison would have created if Grant Morrison were a Golden Age superhero writer. Since he wasn't, he's a character Morrison has been repeatedly drawn to, and generally finds great success with, even though this story is probably the longest one devoted to the character Morrison ever penned.

What I liked most about this book, both in the writing and in the design and rendering, is that Stewart and Morrison, free to do whatever the hell they wanted with these characters, didn't see a need to scrap them and rebuild them, as is so often the case with creators tackling them (See Geoff Johns and Gary Frank's recent Shazam trade paperback for a good example of that). The only changes they make are basically tweaks; giving the Sivana kids street clothes instead of labcoats, giving Billy a live-streaming radio show on the Internet, kaiju-sizing members of Cap's rogues gallery to give them a cameo, and, in maybe the nicest touch, giving Uncle Marvel and the Lieutenant Marvels (who go unnamed, thankfully, since Fat Marvel, Tall Marvel and Hill Marvel don't really, um, work as superhero codenames in 2014) jetpacks and laser guns to give them the approximation of superpowers...and, since they're empowering Uncle Dudley in such a fashion, why not give Tawky Tawny a Lieutenant Marvel Uniform and jet pack and ray gun too?
I'm not sure how long Morrison would be able to keep a Captain Marvel series like this going—with these one-shots, I often find myself wondering if they're so good because Morrison used every single good idea he had for a character or concept in that one script, cutting out all of his lesser ideas—but, in a more perfect world, DC would be publishing a Grant Morrison and Cameron Stewart Captain Marvel comic just like this, and this is the Captain Marvel we'd see in Justice League, rather than the hood-wearing, glowing chest-having Shazam.

Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman #5 (DC) Pay no attention to the man behind the title character's shoulder; he doesn't appear in any way, shape or form in the interiors. The name of a company owned by his archenemy appears on a box in several panels of this story, but that's as close as we get to a Superman connection within the actual book. This appears to be just another case of DC slapping any old random image of Wonder Woman on an issue of Sensation; hell, this might be a rejected Superman/Wonder Woman cover.

The story, which fills all 30 pages of this issue, is by Corrina Bechko and Gabriel Hardman; the former writing, and the latter writing and drawing, with Jordan Boyd handling the muted colors. They're muted for a reason: This story takes place on Apocolips.

It's a pretty great done-in-one issue, apparently set sometime pre-Flashpoint, as Wonder Woman has her previous costume on, and Darkseid and his followers all also look like their more recognizable, pre-New 52 selves.

In fact, in dialogue, plot and tone as well as visuals, this felt very much like the first time I've read a story about the "real" Wonder Woman (and the "real" Darkseid and Apokolips in a while).

Queen Hippolyta has sent two Amazonian spies to Apokolips, and they never returned, so she sends her daughter Diana to find and, hopefully, rescue them. She achieves her mission (sort of), but not before taking on Parademons and the Female Furies, getting tossed in a firepit, meeting the unfortunate subjects of Darkseid, and saving him and his entire world from destruction...while simultaneously sowing the seeds of rebellion against him.

There is a lot to like in this issue, from the fantastic Boom Tube entrance (something I don't think I've ever seen, despite all the Boom Tubes I've seen) to Wonder WOman using her magical lasso to actually get people to tell her the truth rather than just strangling them with it to a fantastic three-page action sequence that scans a little like a movie car chase, only one car is a flying lady carrying a couple of Amazon warriors, and the pursuing cars are Steppenwolf and some dudes on giant dogs (That scene kicks off with the line "Oh great...Now they've got giant dogs.").
I've always liked Hardman's style and it was a great pleasure to see him drawing iconic characters like Wonder Woman and the villains of Apokolips; I particularly liked his take on Mad Harriet and the way he's able to make Kirby's original Darkseid design look so goddam scary and menacing simply by rendering it that way, rather than feeling the need to tweak it or redesign the character, who endures because he was created so well.

Also, I love the way he draws omega beams.
Hardman's figure work in this really made me think he would have been an ideal artist to follow Cliff Chiang on the Wonder Woman monthly, if DC wanted to stick with that basic look for the book, as there's a lot in his linework and figure work that has the same basic, classic, bold design and storytellng chops as Chiang, but Hardman's work has a lot more lines, giving it a darker, grittier feel (and note I'm talking about the way the art looks, not the way the story unfolds or the character acts; this is Wonder Woman in full-on superhero mode, saving lives and fighting only after trying not to).

I really can't recommend this issue highly enough to fans of Wonder Woman. While we've seen some pretty great stories in the previous issues, this one is great while being a perfectly straightforward superhero action adventure story; it's not so much a radical new take on the character or a wild depiction of a versin of her, it's just a really well-done comic book starring teh Wonder Woman you knew and loved from all the good Wonder Woman comics you've read.

Speaking of Darkseid and Wonder Woman, I haven't read Batman and Robin yet, which is currently telling a story about Batman invading Apokolips to retrieve the body of Damian (I read it in trade), but I did flip through it, and I loved Patrick Gleason's take on Darkseid, giving his craggy, rock-like skin so much detail that he had a complexion that looked like it was somewhere between a circuit board and a labyrinth.

And the biggest Wonder Woman-related news of the week comes not in Sensation, but in the pretty awful Wonder Woman #37...specifically a shocking last-page reveal that suggests that the thorniest aspect of all of Wonder Woman history (and one of the DC Universe's continuity as a whole) is going to be raised and explored by a writer who has confessed ignorance of Wonder Woman history.

I may post about Wonder Woman #37 next week or so, but, in the meantime, this was my initial reaction, as shared with Twitter: "So, how best to discuss the last page of this week's Wonder Woman, and to do so without spoiling it? How about a metaphor: DC is a person in a cartoon who just threw a stick of dynamite out the front doore and breathed a deep sigh of relief; the Finchs are a cartoon dog that runs back in holding the sill lit dynamite in its mouth, thinking they're playing fetch."

Um, that probably spoils it anyway, doesn't it?


SallyP said...

The Captain Marvel book was such a breath of fresh air. The sensational Wonder Woman was also excellent. I have already bailed on the Finches, but your metaphor with the dynamite did make me smile.

Jacob T. Levy said...

I've seen that page spoiled elsewhere, and it's terrible in numerous ways, but the dog fetching the dynamite is definitely one of them.

Bram said...

Wha … wait … your shop got Sensation Comics this week? Our copies just kind of never showed up and was never listed on the invoice and nobody was able to offer an explanation. Hey, thanks for the great service again, Diamond, the only provider of comic books!

Fans of the Bechko/Hardmans — and, really, there should be a lot more — should probably check out the upcoming Invisible Republic. Make life easier for your LCS and preorder.

And, Caleb, while I appreciate you taking the hit reading Eternal and Future's End so we don't have to. Really, it's the only way I even kind of know what's going on. But I'd rather you hear your opinions about some underpublicized interesting stuff that you'd like.