Friday, October 16, 2015

Comic Shop Comics: October 15

Batman & Robin Eternal #2 (DC Comics) While I'm not entirely sure how much the particular wording of a book's credits actually says about said book's creation, that for Batman & Robin Eternal seems to suggest some differences from its predecessor, Batman Eternal.

The latter featured a story written by "Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV," while this time around, Tynion gets top-billing over Snyder, seemingly indicating greater input. Batman Eternal would then feature a "script" credit that went to one or more of the several writers involved, and then credit all of the other writers involved as "consulting" or "contributing." Here, that's not the case; there' s just a story credit and a script credit, suggesting that maybe this was made more along the lines of, say, Countdown (a "showrunner" who wrote the story, with rotating script writers for each issue) versus something closer to 52 (four writers who collaborated closely enough that they felt they should all be credited each issue, like a rock band more than a TV writing staff).

Like I said, I don't know that's what the credits on these first two issues of the new Batman weekly actually mean, but it is what they suggest. So this time Tim Seeley gets the scripting credit, and I'm glad he does; his dialogue tends to have a light touch, well-suited to characters like Dick Grayson and, um, everyone else in the cast, really, as it consists of everyone in the Batman family with a sense of humor (That is, everyone but Batman himself and current Robin Damian Wayne).

The art this week is handled by Paul Pelletier (on pencils) and Tony Kordos (on inks). I actually didn't recognize it as Pelletier's pencils during the initial flip through and the first page of art, thinking Tony Daniel was still drawing it. That's not a compliment (I like Pelletier's pencils, while I loathe Daniel's), although I suppose one could compliment Pelletier on making his work look closer to DC house style.

This issue's cover is a flashback one, referring to a five-page scene in which Dick Grayson remembers the first time he smelled The Scarecrow's fear gas (That flashback does not explain why the 16-year-old Dick is only, like, three and a half feet tall on that cover). Yes, that is Dick Grayson on the cover as Robin. One day, I will get used to his now having been retroactively costumed in an amalgam of Tim Drake and Damian Wayne's Robin costumes, I suppose; I don't think I'll ever understand why DC editorial would decide to divorce the character from his immediately recognizable, time-signifying original costume. (It can't be to appeal to the videogame crowd, can it? Because Dick is Nightwing in both the Arkham games and Injustice, right? While the videogame Robins are Tim and Damian, respectively...? This costume reminds me an awful lot of the Injustice Robin costume).

So in this action-packed, character-stuffed issue, the boys from the last issue start meeting the girls. Cassandra, wearing her dumb get-up (why does a a martial artist who is practically impossible to strike need armor, exactly? Is she wearing shoulder pads and shin guards because she just got done playing ninja football before the start of this story, and hasn't had time to change yet?), shows up at Harper's apartment just in time to save her from getting fridged (whew!) by new villain The Orphan.

Dick arrives on the scene, and Stephanie Brown gets her first look at him. ("Kiss me, Sexy Batman," she says to herself; that's not a bad name for Grayson, really. Maybe they should retitle his book Grayson, relaunching it as Dick Grasyon, Sexy Batman.)

The Orphan flees, while Grayson administer's first aid to Harper. Stephanie rushes in, dressed in her Spoiler costume, shouting the dumbest possible battlecry a character named Spoiler can shout (my friend, an ardent Stephanie Brown fan, disagrees; "It's so dumb I love it," she texted me).

The characters all catch a whiff of whatever the green gas that The Orphan pumps directly into his mouth is, and Dick says it's fear gas, prompting the aforementioned flashback, which allows us to get a look at a Batman, thus justifying the title.

Red Robin (sigh) Tim Drake shows up at the apartment, brazenly still wearing his dumb costume, and announces that he's had secret camera's set up in the girls' apartment (WHAT? That is the exact sort of teen comedy I want to read about!), and Dick calls the Red Hood Jason Todd (whose new costume, remember, includes a brown hood) to warn him that there's an assassin after him...and it turns out to be Cassandra.


Seeley's dialogue. He writes most of these kids really well. I especially liked the chemistry and exchanges between Spoiler and Dick.

The economy of story, as Seeley and company manage to get six heroes and a villain into just 15 pages...and still leave room for the flashback

The visual story-telling is a massive improvement over the first issue. There wasn't a single scene I need to re-read once, let alone a couple of times, or "fix" in my head.


The designs. Seriously, every single character looks terrible all of the time. I'm pretty sure Spoiler has the best costume in this book, and that is not a good thing, as her costume's not that great.

Pelletier attempts one of those neat multiple-image panels of Grayson gymnastic-ing around that Scott McDaniel used to fill the first volume of the Nightwing monthly with, but, for some reason, he draws Grayson only in silhouette, and that silhouette is colored not black (you know, the color of silhouettes), but red:

Red Hood is shown hanging out at Noonan's, a bar he frequented in the pages of Batman Eternal. I suppose it's possible that this isn't meant to be Noonan's Sleazy Bar (perhaps Sean Noonan added the "Sleazy Bar" to the name of his bar to differentiate it from the more upscale, generic Noonan's that Red Hood is always in...?), but it's worth noting that this Noonan's looks nothing at all like the Noonan's it's almost certainly meant to reference, the current setting of Section Eight, which means the Noonan's of Hitman still exists in its original form, and that this isn't the New 52 version of Noonan's.

I'm going to award myself a No Prize and just assume Gotham City has two Noonan's; the one that Red Hood goes to (which is in The Narrows) and the one in Hitman and Section Eight, which is, of course, in The Cauldron.

Bat-Mite #5 (DC) The imp takes on his greatest challenge yet when he attempts to fix The Inferior Five, making them competent and cool. That team, as you probably know, was created in the late sixties by E. Nelson Bridwell, Otto Binder and Joe Orlando as a parody of the super-competent super-teams like The Fantastic Four, whose team name theirs echoes. While they never set the world on fire, they've hung around as cameo-makers and very occasional guest-stars here and there.

The idea of Bat-Mite attempting to fix a team that not only doesn't need fixing (his M.O. up to this point in the series), but which is defined by its weakness, provides writer Dan Jurgens with the biggest, heaviest anvil with which to strike readers with the point of this book yet.

"Your fix ruined us!" one of them tells Bat-Mite when she realizes that in addition to getting "cooler" costumes, powers and codenames, they had suddenly become more violent and bloodthirsty. Bat-Mite protests that "You're better!" to which she counters, "Not when we're not us."

So, once again, we get an indictment against over-updating old superheroes in order to make them more modern, realistic and cool...from Dan Jurgens, who has been pretty heavily involved in doing that exact thing since DC's New 52 reboot. Further confusing the message, Bat-Mite's arch-enemy in the series has been a guy stuck in the past, who never wants anything to change. I think we'll have to read the last issue, and then re-read the whole series to make sense of this.

I assume Jurgens is intentionally set on making some sort of commentary here, because it would be too strange a coincidence if this just happened without his even being aware of it, but he seems like one of the more poorly-suited writers to make such an argument.

It's also somewhat ironic that the one of the original members, Dumb Bunny, has her name changed to Tough Bunny, before Bat-Mite fixes them all (her new, temporary, post-fix codename is simply "Rabbit"). That is, presumably, because some might find the character offensive. She was originally created and consistently portrayed as a stock "dumb blonde" character, after all. Tough Bunny is a dumb name though, and doesn't really work in the way that "Dumb Bunny" did. And anyway, isn't the fact that Jurgens himself "fixes" an aspect of a character who a character of his then fixes in-story only to learn that fixing them is wrong only further muck up the point...?

As far as the actual plot of this issue goes, Bat-Mite is chuggung Big Bucks coffee drinks (what, no Sundollars?) while rushing to the scene of a battle between The Inferior Five and Gridlock's goons, who are attempting to steal a never-shown, lost pilot episode for Generic Star Trek. Mid-battle, Bat-Mite fixes them, turning them into "The Superior Six" (an evil version of the Inferior Five called The Superior Five previously appeared in Villains United, and making himself team leader. So Dumb Tough Bunny, The Blimp, Merryman, Awkwardman and White Feather become Rabbit, Zeppelin, Merrimack, Tripper and White Feather (Er, why not White Arrow, thus losing the reference to cowardice...?).

For a while, anyway. It's another stalemate between Bat-Mite and Gridlock, but there's likely a resolution coming, as the hooded imps from issue #1 appear at the ending, and they decide that banishment wasn't an effective punishment for Bat-Mite after all, and that he must be executed.

DC Comics Bombshells #3 (DC) This digital-first series reimagining DC superheroines in the manner of iconic World War II archetypes gets better and better as it goes on, with writer Marguerite Bennett expanding the circle of characters covered as the narrative continued. Not only do we see brief appearances of Bombshell versions of Big Barda, Doctor Light II and Catwoman, but this issue also introduces us to young, blue-haired (?) auto mechanic and Batwoman fan, Harper Row, something I most certainly did not ever see coming.

At $3.99, this is also a 30-page book with three, ten-page chapters, each by a different artist. The first, and best, reunites Team Marguerite, as Marguerite Sauvage returns to draw Batwoman's last night in Gotham before she "enlists" with Amanda Waller's team literally called "The Bombshells" (that's where we meet Barda and chief scientist Doctor Kimiyo Hoshi.

I've enthused about Sauvage's art on this book so much already, I hesitate to devote too many more paragraphs to it, but let's, at the very least, look at this gorgeous scene of Batwoman's last evening with her lover, and how sexy it is without actually being crass or exploitive.
I mean, they're wearing more clothing than many superheroines do, and the contact is minimal, but the intimacy is undeniable, all in the placement of the figures and the looks on their faces (For a good contrast, see Renee Montoya's introduction in 52).

The other two chapters include one drawn by Garry Brown featuring The Joker's Daughter, Zatanna and Rabbit John Constantine (see the cover) and, um, Hitler himself (?!), and another by Laura Braga, in which Wonder Woman gets her first look at modern warfare while she and Mera try to return Steve Trevor to his commanding officer...General Samson Lane.

The middle chapter, in which Zatanna and Joker's Daughter summon a demon with which Hitler and Nazi Germany can strike a deal–something that's become so cliche at this point that I find it beyond boring; anyone doing a Hitler + The Occult story really should have a super-compelling, unique twist at this point. The latter one is a nice recovery for the issue, as Bennett handles Wonder Woman's seemingly inherent "warrior for peace" paradox pretty beautifully.

I don't think this problematic nature for the character actually really surfaced until the 1990s or so, and certainly wasn't there during her Marston-written Golden Age years, when the character espoused a particular philosophy, but most modern writers tend to have a lot of trouble with Wonder Woman, as they want to portray her as a brutally efficient, sometimes bloodthirsty warrior type, and then have to try to reconcile it with the character's inherent nature, which is the opposite of that. So what we usually get is Wonder Woman lopping off limbs, stabbing foes and using her magic lasso primarily for purposes of strangulation, while she says things like, "I'd rather not hurt you, but you leave me no choice but to chop your arm off at the elbow, to teach you the meaning of love and peace or whatever. Hola!"

After five fast, efficient panels in which she describes the technology of World War II-era war-making in Amazonian terms, and then takes a shell to the back, she rips a tree out of the ground by its roots, clubs some Nazis with it, and jams the trunk down a tank barrell, saying "I have no wish to kill what I might subdue... ...And if I must show you a wonder-- Then a wonder you shall have-- --that you may stand down in awe."

I imagine the guys in the tank didn't make it out alive, but at least we didn't have to see Wonder Woman beheading them or anything, and hey, that philosophy works pretty well...the events that follow seem to indicate that as well. By proving her awesome strength and invulnerability, Wonder Woman proves the futility of opposing her, without actually having to take her foes apart. Similarly to the way Superman doesn't regularly roast petty criminals alive with his heat-vision; because he can generally means he doesn't have to, you know?

With Sensation Comics winding down its run, Bombshells may very well end up being the best Wonder Woman comic available...

Jem and The Holograms Vol. 1: Showtime (IDW Publishing) I intend to write much (much, much) more about this later, probably here at EDILW and elsewhere, but this was very good. I mean, I rather expected it to be good, having been a huge fan of artist Sophie Campbell's work since I first encountered it in Tokyopop zombie OEL manga The Abandonded (created when she was still using the name Ross Campbell) and read everything she had drawn or written and drawn since.

What I didn't expect it to be was not only great-looking, but really well-written, and a pretty hilarious, occasionally quite melodramatic take on the characters and concepts of the original cartoon show (which I watched in the youth) and doll line (which my sister collected and played with). It's very, very different...but also very true to the spirit of the original in a way I find a little mind-boggling. Like, Kelly Thompson and Sophie Campbell's IDW Jem and The Holograms series is to the Jem and The Holograms cartoon what Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's All-Star Superman is to the Superman franchise.

The only way I think it could be improved would be if it were renamed Pizazz and The Misfits, because goddam does Campbell draw incredible images of Pizazz screaming, yelling and swearing giant green skulls in dialogue balloons:
I'm not always crazy about IDW's collections, particularly their Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ones, which I read the first 10 volumes or so of, and kept finding out that because they publish so many one-shots and miniseries, you couldn't really read follow the story in trade (although I guess they're no going back and collecting everything together...after I've already bought like $200 worth of trades). But this? This is a great collection. In addition to collecting the first six issues of the series (a complete story arc), it features what appears to be all of the one million covers in a gallery at the back, a dozen profiles of the major members of the cast, a foreword by writer Thompson, an afterword by artist Sophie Campbell and "Behind the scenes" prose piece by editor John Barber.

As I've said a repeatedly here in the past, I prefer collections to have this sort of supplementary material, which helps contextualize what you're about to read or just finished reading (more important in collections of older material to be sure), give the reader a little more value for their dollar (although at just $19.99, this trade is a good four books or so cheaper than the single issues would have been) and generally just make a case for why the book is worthy of being collected at all. I know when trade collections first started appearing in the late 1980s and early 1990s, that was a more important thing, as collections of comic books were at that point rare; now, the Big Two and most of the other smaller publisher collect everything, sometimes to the detriment of the diet market, I think. (Would a shitty comic like, say, Doomed or The Ravagers lasted longer if direct market readers knew they had to buy the first few issues to see if they liked it or not, as they couldn't assume they could just wait six months and then buy the trade if the books get good reviews and good buzz...?)

Anyway, Jem is amazing, and if you havne't been reading it, please start doing so with this trade. Imagine a brightly, occasionally glarish glam rock Wet Moon in the form of a CW melodrama with a too-diverse-for TV cast and a insane, super-villain of a band leader making faces like this all the time:

Lumberjanes: Beyond Bay Leaf #1 (Boom Studios) Confession: I read this comic Wednesday night, but I just now got the pun in the sub-title, as I re-pondered what it meant in relation to the story within.

You probably all got it immediately, huh?

Well, this is an oversized, $4.99/32-page one-shot special written by Faith Erin Hicks (and, sadly, just written by FEH; I would love to see her draw a whole Lumberjanes comic at some point) and drawn by Rosemary Valero-O'Connell, whose style actually seems to have a bit of FEH inspiration in it...or they were both inspired by similar artists, maybe. Anyway, if you told me that Faith Erin Hicks drew this, and then flipped the pages really quickly before I could really study any of the line-work for longer than a split-second, I'd believe you.

The story is, like most Lumberjanes stories, basically a bunch of random weirdness, confronted with aplomb, a sense of humor and a complete lack of fear, cynicism or wonder by our heroines. Jen takes our gang out into the woods to study the stars, but Ripley gets distracted by "a ghost pony" and gives chase. The girls seek her out, and find some sort of ogress with spooky wolf dog things that hunts ghost ponies.

I really loved Valero-O'Connell's expression's on the magical horse, as it deals with Ripley:
There's more to it than random weirdeness appears, gets confronted, gets defeated and forgotten, as Hicks riffs on a theme that occasionally appears within the regular monthly, book–the girls' desire that their summer never end and that they never have to part, which should strike an elegiac tone with the book's many adult readers–but it's hardly an over-serious moment.

At $5, it's probably a little too pricey, even though it is ten story pages longer than the $3.99 regular issues. I would probably have passed on it for price alone, save for the fact that Boom's been a bit slow to collect the series into trade, making the serially-published comics the best way to read it. Also, I'm really glad that this book exists in the direct market (even though I wish it had a better and stronger presence among trade paperback collections, so more little girls could read it more often, you know?).

SpongeBob Comics #49 (United Plankton Pictures) Let's see, what three, completely-cliched words can I use to best describe this horror-themed issue of SpongeBob Comics, the best anthology gag comic available in the comics market today?

Oh, of course!

Best. Issue. Ever.

Okay, I guess the issue got me think of The Simpsons for two reasons. Firstly, the Halloween issues of the long-running cartoon's long-running comic book iteration are generally the best ones of the year, taking greater and weirder risks with the stories and the unlikely talents involved. And, secondly, because Kelley Jones once drew a Simpsons story in a Treehouse of Horror issue, and that's something I never expected to see.

Just as I never expected to see Kelley Jones drawing a cover for SpongeBob Comics, but here it is, with the artist making Patrick, SpongeBob and Squidward look like genuinely horrifying sea monsters (artist Stephanie Yue draws the back cover, which has the same basic content, only it's, you know, darling).
And Jones isn't the only one of my favorite artists involved! Richard Sala provides a ghost pirate-filled pin-up in the back, one of the two that appears.

Also in this issue? A fairly crazy collaboration between Derek Drymon and Gregg Schigiel, working in their normal, perfectly faithful to the subject matter style, with Stephen R. Bissette, who draws the "monster art" into the story. A riff on Poe's "Tell-Tale Heart" and to a lesser (but more obvious, given the creators involved) extent, Swamp Thing (I eagerly await Mike Sterling's thoughts on the story).

That's followed by a four-page Mark Martin comic, a one-page edutainment comic about map monsters drawn by Vanessa Davis and a 10-page story wirtten by Kaz and drawn by Tony Millionaire, whose monsters are delightful, and whose art is a joy to see in full-color. Plus your monthly does of James Kochalka, and two more pin-ups. I'd say it's a great issue for people who don't usually read the comic, or don't usually watch (or even like, or even know anything about about the cartoon but, well, that's every issue of SpongeBob Comics.

Sunday In The Park With Boys (Koyama Press) This is an old book, purchased on the strength of cartoonist Jane Mai's upcoming book See You Next Tuesday, which is one of the best things I've read in a very long time and I would encourage you all to go buy and read it as soon as it comes out. This is very, very different. Mai's art here is much more carefully produced, and her subject matter a lot darker and more serious. If Tuesday is a comedic collection of funny diary ccomics, then Sunday is a collection of poems in the forms of comics.

I really enjoyed the Stinky story; Stinky is her dog, and he gives her very good advice on her existential dilemmas.

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