Saturday, December 13, 2014

Comic Shop Comics: December 3-10

Afterlife With Archie #7 (Archie Comics) It seems like it's been forever since the last issue of the zombiepocalypse-hits-Riverdale series Afterlife With Archie, and even forever-er since we checked in with Archie Andrews and his band of survivors, since the sixth issue was focused on where Sabrina, The Teenage Witch went and what's become of her after she accidentally set the zombieapocalypse in motion (Actually, it looks like #5 came out in May, and #6 in July. So it's only been practically forever and forever-er, if not literally so). If occasional breaks of several months duration between issues is what it takes to keep artist Francesco Francavilla drawing the series, it's probably well worth the wait. While it's easy to imagine other artists drawing and/or coloring such a story, it's nearly impossible to imagine another artist coming in at this point and taking over, given how Francavilla's work has defined the look and feel of this very particular, very unusual Archie comic.

This issue continues the book's second arc, with the ominous title of "Betty: R.I.P." (Which actually did begin in the Betty-less, Sabrina-focused #6; I checked). Archie, Betty, Veronica, Kevin, Cheryl, Mr. Lodge and the rest of the band has escaped form Riverdale and are now trekking toward a Centers for Disease Control location in Pittsburghe, "The Horde" (as Kevin calls them; I guess he's seen that French zombie movie) on their heels.

Betty narrates this issue via a diary she's keeping, in an attempt to keep herself sane (and narrate the comic, of course), and we montage through elements of her past involving her family and her first meetings with Veronica and Archie, as well as the present situation. Meanwhile, she and Archie have taken to stealing kisses, and Veronica has noticed.

There's a panel where Betty notes that their group has decided to avoid contact with other bands of survivors just as they avoid the zombies, not trusting that uninfected humanity haven't also lost their humanity given the circumstances, but it looks like Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa has them do so not simply to avoid that particular cliche of zombie narratives, but because if people are going to start going nuts and killing each other in this comic, it's going to be the members of the Riverdale group, as we see in the last few pages of this issue. That's when one character disappears under mysterious circumstances off-panel, and another emerges from the woods, soaked in blood, carrying a machete and announcing a name-change.

Francavilla modulates his use of coloring to distinguish flashbacks from the current storyline, abandoning the Halloween palette of the present story for one dominated by blue and cream during the Betty scenes.

As for the black-and-white (well, black-and-gray) horror reprint from the pages of Chilling Adventures In Sorcery, it's a five-pager from writer Marvin Channing and artist Dough Wildey. It's about a German Shepherd who is cursed by a witch to murder his owners. He does so not with his sharp teeth and powerful jaws, but in a much more hilarious manner:
No one would ever suspect the dog of pushing someone down the stairs!

This issue is also noteworthy for featuring the first appearance of Josie and The Pussycats in the least as far as I an remember. It's merely in a one-panel flashback featuring Josie and Melody on-stage, but still! Francavilla drawing Josie! I've been awaiting their entrance into the narrative rather breathlessly, and, if Aguirre-Sacasa doesn't end up using them prominently, I hope Archie Comics will consider a Josie and The Pussycats and The Zombies spin-off series.

Batgirl #37 (DC Comics) As I noted yesterday on Twitter, this may be the only DC Comic this month where it's actually hard to choose between the regular cover, here a Cameron Stewart image of the other Batgirl (who our Batgirl will finally meet face to face in this issue, and defeat), and the Darwyn Cooke-drawn landscape format variant cover.

As with the first two issues of the Babs Tarr and Cameron Stewart-drawn, Brenden Fletcher and Stewart-written new direction for the series, this issue is basically one big done-in-one story (although there are various conflicts that continue from issue to issue), with enough panels, dialogue and all-around content to make it read and "last" about twice as long as your average DC Comic.

Batgirl has three different battles with her double: The first occurs when she tries to break up Batgirl and her gang's Bling Ring-ing of Gotham celebrities, the second during a trap and the third at an event meant to unveil the true identity of Batgirl. We learn the other Batgirl's identity, and suffice it to say you really won't see it coming.

We do learn that someone else is pulling the strings of Other Batgirl, someone who apparently knows Batgirl's secret identity, which seems to point to the ultimate villain being Black Canary of all-people, but that's can't possibly be the case (I can't imagine her New 52 reboot has changed her that much), so it will remain a mystery (My first thought was actually The Joker, but while Gail Simone's "Death of The Family" tie-in arc in Batgirl depended on The Joker knowing who Batgirl really was under her mask, the "Death of The Family" arc in Batman by Scott Snyder made it pretty clear that The Joker had no idea who Batman and his sidekicks were under their masks...nor did he seem to care all that much. Additionally, it should be someone Stewart, Fletcher and Tarr have already introduced, in the interests of playing fair).

Oh, and a few new characters are introduced, including artist Dagger Type (in the 1966 Batman TV show, he would have been called Dagger O. Type) and cute Gotham PD officer Liam Powell, who makes Babs blush and summons a little floating cartoon heart out of her, the same way Babs summons cartoon hearts from that cute teaching assistant at her school when she sees him again this issue.

So that's three issues now, and three homeruns from the current creative team. Long may they create.

(I have to admit though, the part of me that reads other Bat-comics was amused by the fact that Babs loses her cowl during her second battle with Other Batgirl, and asks her cute gadget guy if he can make her a new one, and then has to go to the third confrontation sans cowl, because he doesn't have time to make her one. If only she knew a super-rich billionaire with a cave full of bat-gear. Do Batman, Alfred and Julia so disdain Burnside that they refuse to Bat-drones to drop off Bat-masks to Babs now...?)

Batman Eternal #35 (DC) Tommy Lee Edwards' cover for this issue is rather well rendered, but I found the content somewhat unfortunate, as it sort of gives away the fact that Batman does, in fact, escape the death trap he finds himself in at the end of this issue, and it misses the opportunity to turn that death trap into a super-striking image.

Crooked police commissioner Jason Bard has Morgan Freeman helping him take down the Batman via laptop, apparently by pressuring him to do so, and Freeman has taken remote control of the Batmobile, containing Batman. Bard tells him to basically surrender or die, and when Batman refuses to surrender, Bard has Freeman Lucius Fox sending the Batmobile careening through various buildings, the cliffhanger ending involving the Batmoblie basically falling grill-first towards the pavement.

While I knew Batman wasn't really going to die or anything, James Tynion and his writing partners really did a pretty great job of selling Batman's dire predicament in this issue, I thought, and it seems like Edwards missed a chance to do a super-awesome cover, but instead settled for a more generic car crash sort of cover.

As for the interiors, they're drawn by Fernando Blanco, and they consist mainly of Bard's pissing match with Batman, although there's a sub-plot that will come to fruition in the next issue, involving Vicki Vale's investigation into Bard's past.

And I don't really want to tell Batman how to do his job or anything, but if I were going to keep Hush prisoner in the middle of my secret headquarters, I would probably put him in a cage or cell of some kind with opaque walls and maybe sound-proof it. As is, Hush is free to see and overhear everything going on around him, and even offer running commentary. He already knows Batman's secret identity, of course, so there's no danger of him tumbling that particular secret but I'm not sure why Batman's basically installing him in the nerve center of his whole operation.

Batman Eternal #36 (DC) Damn, did Tommy Lee Edwards ever draw the hell out of this paritcular cover. I love the gordian knot of power lines and wires there, as well as everything about his Batman figure—the points on the tips of his fingers, the way his cape hangs, the nimble way in which he's posed, the almost casual nature of his posture as he reaches out to pluck Bard up...

The interiors for this issue are by the same team as the previous one—script by Tynion, art by Blanco. Bard seems to have successfully killed Batman by trapping him in the Batmobile and dropping it from a great, Batmobile-exploding height. Meanwhile we check in with Red Robin Tim Drake and Harper Row, Vicki Vale concludes her surprisingly easy to crack investigation of Jason Bard's origins (and why he's so determined to take down Batman) and the entire Bat-Family (Red Robin, Red Hood, Batgirl) joins Batman—who didn't die after all! Spoiler alert!—to threaten Bard.

I found Bard's rationale for hating Baman slightly undercooked. Essentially, a Batman-inspired, wannabe vigilante screwed up, arriving at the scene of a crime just as Bard and his partner/lover were arriving to take on some well-armed drug dealers, and Bard's partner/lover died. Bard decided to blame Batman, for "inspiring" the vigilante, who also died.

Now, there are plenty of examples—even some that haven't been rebooted away—of Batman ruining the lives of pretty much everyone he comes into contact with, of Batman being so focused on his sometimes selfish war on crime that he loses sight of everything and everyone around him, and fails to consider what damage he might be doing in the name of good. But this? This sounds a little like blaming the pope for the death of your girlfriend, because the murderer happened to be Catholic, you know?

Given the fact that Batman just recently closed down an organization that funded Batmen all over the world, I wonder if this might not have been a more effective origin for Bard if Tynion, Scott Snyder and their co-writers decided to use an official member of Batman, Inc, or a New 52 version of some sort of unuesed lieutenant Batman (Azrael, Orpheus, etc). Someone with a more direct association with Batman, or even a more direct link to the character, in terms of inspiration. This guy sounds more like one of those real-world superhero people who basically just wear costumes, more so than a DC Universe Batman-inspired vigilante.

I'm pretty sure this issue marks the first appearance of Batgirl's new costume in Batman Eternal (and maybe outside of the pages of Batgirl). Red Hood Jason Todd makes a comment about her copying off of him, event hough he just wears a normal leather jacket over a bat-symbol, while she wears a zipped-up jacket with a bat-symbol on it. I don't see it, Jason.

Also, that last page? This is the second intimation we've been given that The Riddler knows who is the bad guy behind all the other badguys, including Falcone and Hush. I do hope that's not because The Riddler is that bad guy. Mainly because at this point, it would be a rather weak reveal, but also because, based on Snyder's run so far, The Riddler is probably Batman's second greatest enemy, maybe even running neck-and-neck with The Joker for first place, and to have him take over Gotham again five years after the last time just seems a bit much, doesn't it?

I don't have a problem with Snyder rehabilitating the character into a formidable foe, but he doesn't have the makings of an all-time great Batman archenemy—he's smart and organized and...that's it, really. Should he be in the top ten? Certainly. Top half-dozen, yeah, probably...especially if Catwoman is now on the side of the angels more-or-less permanently at this point. But I have a hard time imagining The Riddler even rubbing shoulders with, let alone surpassing, the likes of The Joker, Two-Face, The Penguin, Ra's al Ghul and Bane.

I guess we'll see, but at this point,they've pretty much used everyone other than The Joker and Ra's in the series, and they haven't been introduced or mentioned yet, which would make appearances from either pretty out-of-left-field at this point. I'm still betting it's Batman's brother or "brother," but even that seems unfair, given that he hasn't been mentioned either.


Gotham Academy #3 (DC) The mystery deepens as the characters come in to sharper focus and get to know one another better. After the climax of the previous issue, in which, Olive Silverlock walked in on some sort of weird cult ceremony involving bat-masks and fire in a crypt all ready in progress, this issue jumps ahead to detention, and Olive and her growing circle of co-conspirators (and/or supsects) as they try to unravel the mystery of the ghost of Gotham Academy.

They seem to be getting somewhere, judging by the inhuman hand reaching out of the hole in the floor of the closed and off-limits North Hall. But then, this is Gotham, so that inhuman hand could just as easily belong to a crocodile man that lives in the sewers or a magical clay monster-man as it could a zombie or ghost of some kind, you know?

Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher's story remains engaging, and is only getting more so, but it's Karl Kerschel's artwork that really makes this a book not to be missed.

New 52: Futures End #31 (DC) Pretty much the whole Five Years From Now Justice League is on Ryan Sook's evocative cover for this issue, including several other more prominent characters in the book: Batman, Batman Beyond, Mr. Terrific, Superman II, Cyborg, Stormguard, The Flash, Equinox, Wonder Woman-as-God-of-War, Tim "Cal Corcoran" Drake, Some Lady In His Arms Probably Meant to be his Ex-Girlfriend Maddy and Some Lady Who's Probably Meant to be Lois Lane Since She Doesn't Have a Costume On.

Now, if you haven't already read the issue, guess how many of those characters actually appear inside this issue?

If you guessed zero, then you are even more cynical than I...but you're not far off. It's actually three: Lois Lane, Maddy (in a completely different form) and Tim/Cal. Sooooo, not really sure what they were going for with this cover here. Presumably Sook received an outline of what the issue would include a long time ago, and went with it, but plans changed pretty significantly.

See, this issue does feature the funeral of Ronnie Raymond, 1/2 of Firestorm, which might interest a lot of those Justice Leaguers, but since Ronnie's other life as 1/2 a Firestorm wasn't known, none of the superheroes attend the funeral, nor do they even seem to know he's dead.

The characters that do appear in the issue are the Earth 2 heroes rescued by Team Arrow from Cadmus Island, who appear behind Lois at a press conference, Green Arrow Oliver Queen and Animal Man, King Faraday and, mostly, shirtless, beareded Superman and Constantine.

Shirtless, Bearded Superman follows Constantine and a half naked lady to Tunguska, were we are presented by an image so awesome I almost want to forgive Futures End for how mostly terrible it's been for over 20 weeks now:
See-through, talking Brainiac bear!

That image comes courtesy of artists Jesus Merino and Dan Green, who have to draw this dumb issue.

My second favorite part is the new Firestorm—Jason's disembodied head floating over the shoulder of Maddy—sneaking in to Ronnie's funeral despite, you know, glowing and having a head that is actually constantly on fire.
Only former Red Robin Tim Drake seems to even suspect their presence, so you know he was trained by the World's Greatest Detective!

New 52: Futures End #32 (DC) Terry "Batman From 30 Years From Five Years From Now" McGinnis and Plastique, who he's is apparently like dating now, put on the worst disguises ever and go out for pizza! Mr. Terrific interrupts a meeting with Bruce Wayne to make a spur of the moment press conference! Cole "Grifter" Cash and Earth-2 Lana Lang do paperwork! Fifty Sue puts on a Deathstroke mask and looks pretty damn creepy! The mad scientist becomes the new, dumb-looking Dr. Polaris! Maddy and Jason are still stuck in Firestorm form! And when the new Stormwatch arrives on Earth, Father Time sicks a rejected Godzilla 2014 design and a MUTO on them! Scot Eaton pnecilled! Scot Hanna inked! I read it!

SpongeBob Comics #39 (United Plankton Pictures) Artist Gregg Schigiel's cover for this issue is pretty damn amazing, probably the best one on this particular title so far, and one of the best I've seen on any comic book in quite a while. There's a gag in it, and it's a strong enough gag, but the angle, and the way the 2D characters drawn as if they were 3D characters are shown straddling the 2D comics that are drawn as if they are 2D comics is astounding.

Man, this comic's almost worth it for the cover alone.

There's more inside, of course: Writer David Lewman and artist Schiegiel open the book with the story cover, and they're followed by Kaz and Gary Leib on a weird-ass five-pager, on page of James Kochalka strips (the first of which actually made me laugh out loud, or "LOL," as the kids say), then another Schigiel story (this one written by Colleen Venable), a one-page edutainment comic about pufferfish by Maris Wicks, maybe the world's greatest cartoonist who also works at an aquarium, and, finally, a David Degrand 10-pager in which Mrs. Puff tries and fails to escape SpongeBob by going on a cruise.


Nate said...

Gregg Schigiel has a great podcast. It's called"Stuff Said." He also has a comic of his own, "Pix."

Evan said...

I liked how they acknowledged Batgirl's costume change in Eternal. It actually explains why she couldn't have Batman ship her a new cowl, he was probably too busy dealing with Hush and Bard to take her calls.