Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Comic Shop Comics: November 25

Archie #4 (Archie Comics) Finally, it can be told: The Lipstick Incident is revealed, after three issues of teasing. I have to say part of me wishes they never revealed it, as the incident one imagines is much more exciting and interesting than the actual incident (as is always the case when it comes to our unconfirmed imaginations vs. reality), but writer Mark Waid has crafted an incident that works within the parameters of the characters involved, and demonstrates a reason why they might finally split up without making either one of them seem like a bad person in the process.

The page of Archie trudging through the streets of Riverdale, staring at his phone and oblivious to everything around him, is just all-around perfect comic book storytelling on the part of artist Annie Wu and Waid, which goes a long way towards demonstrating what exactly makes this comic work so well.

Writing a preview of this issue for Comics Alliance's "Best Comics Ever (This Week)" feature, Charlotte Finn really nails what that is: "This book is a textbook example of how much raw craft matters, because all the characters are still fully familiar Archie characters—everything that Waid and Wu (and before Wu, Fiona Staples) brings to the table is all technique, and sometimes, technique is enough."

After the main story, the 7-page reprint comic, the cover gallery (Damn, Mahmud Asrar killed it on his variant, and holy crap, there's a Jaime Hernandez one too?!) and the preview of next issue's cover, there's a house ad for an 80-page "collector's edition," which puts the first three issues (i.e. the Fiona Staples-drawn ones) between the same set of covers.

The ad contains a pull-quote from a review credited to "Comic Book Resources." It went like this–Mark Waid and Fiona Staples completely reinvent Archie comics, coming up with a take on the character that should appeal to a whole new and extremely wide audience"–which I thought sounded kinda familiar.

And then I Googled the phrase and I realized why: I wrote that, for CBR's affiliate Robot 6 blog. I do wish they would have been a little more specific in terms of who said that and where. Partly–okay, mostly–because I am vain and like to see my name in print, but also because the reviews on Robot 6, when they still did reviews on Robot 6, were a lot more discerning than those on CBR's main page, and because if I liked something, it must be good, because I am incredibly hard to please. Certainly compared to the no doubt fine folks who review comics for CBR's main page, who tend to grade on a curve of whatever mainstream stuff they read, and thus everything gets good reviews.

Wait, let's look. Okay, there are 14 comics currently on their main page under "reviews": Seven Marvel comics, three Dark Horse, two DC and one IDW comic. I was assuming they would all be 3-5 star reviews, but, just to make me look like an asshole here, I see there actually are some harsh reviews, based, at least, on the star system. Both Marvel's Extreme X-Men and Venom: Space Knight are rated rather poorly, earning 1 and 1.5 stars, respectively. Even still, the average among those 14 is pretty damn high: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

I actually expected it to be a bit higher, but that's still pretty high. Anyway, to recap: I wish they would have attributed that quote to me personally, or at least to Robot 6 instead of the more vague Comic Book Resources, Archie remains awesome and I am an asshole.

Batman & Robin Eternal #8 (DC) Oh God, I'm going to have to talk about this same book every single week from now on, aren't I? Well, I don't have to, of course, but as long as I want to keep reading it (and I do; despite it's mediocre quality, I like Bat-stuff and weekly comics enough to forgive weekly Batman comics a lot when it comes to my Wednesday comic book-purchasing decision making process) and as long as I want to do these posts where I babble for a few paragraphs about whatever I bought at the shop this week (and I do), well, this is going to keep coming up, huh?

This issue is scripted by Genevieve Valentine and drawn by the team of Alvaro Martinez and Raul Fernandez, with Scot Eaton and Wayne Faucher providing all of three pages. I didn't actually notice the art change, perhaps because the Eaton/Faucher ones deal with a brief Red Robin/Red Hood sequence, while the rest of the book is set at the ballet in Prague.

The sub-par art was again frustrating this issue, and by "sub-par" I'm referring to the storytelling more than the quality of the rendering. It turns out that the older, white-haired lady who was all dressed up at the ballet and talking to that one ballerina on The Orphan/Mother's list is a completely different older, white-haired lady who was all dressed up at the ballet than Mother. See, one has her hair pulled back, and the other doesn't. Otherwise the two are identical. Also, the Mother character appears in two different outfits in two different time periods in this issue, so watch your old ladies closely!

Part of this is a failure of rendering, I suppose, but then, there are so many artists drawing the characters, and consistent character design so frowned upon these days (note Harper's ever-changing hair, for one example), that it's sort of inevitable characters will blur and blend together (The Robins are only identifiable by their costumes, for example). I do think this is mostly a failure of initial character design, though. If Mother and Other Old Lady are two different characters, maybe one should have an eye patch or wear a silly hat or something...?

There's also a patchy bit on the penultimate page, in which the script has the characters reacting to the condition of another character as if the latter were badly hurt, whereas the art shows nothing of the sort.

I don't know. Cassandra Cain, Harper Row and Dick Grayson beat up a bunch of ballerinas. So it's got that going for it. See you next week, Batman & Robin Eternal, you frustrating comic I just can't bear to stop reading, you!

Dark Knight III: The Master Race #1 (DC Comics) There seems to be some amount of controversy surrounding this book, which I suppose shouldn't come as any surprise at all: It is a Frank Miller project, and this is the 21st century, after all.

Actually, the extent to which it is a Frank Miller project seems to be the cause of some of the controversy, as DC originally hyped this as Miller's next Dark Knight book, even though he wasn't writing or drawing it, as he did The Dark Knight Returns and The Dark Knight Strikes Again. Miller has been saying in interviews that his role in writing it was extremely limited, which shocked a lot of folks. I know I was shocked this week then to see, in the back, advertorial pages of all of my DC comics except DKIII (which is completely ad-free), Miller saying pretty much the exact same thing in an interview conducted and published by DC Comics, to promote a DC comic.

"This is not my conception, actually," Miller says, correcting Brian Azzarello's A to the Q of "How was this project conceived" in the three-question promotional Q-and-A. "I set up a realm in which Batman would operate and tried to stay true to the character, and Brian is now expanding on the storyline that I introduced...You've got to undestand, DC let me play with their toys, then Brian asked me if he could play with DC's toys the way I treated them...To reiterate, and I'm not being modest here, I'm consulting. This is Brian's show."

So while news that Miller wasn't as terribly involved as the original solicitations might have lead one to believe, the revelation that he consulted more than wrote, or talked about the story with Azzarello who then went on to script it, isn't exactly a bombshell, is it? That said, I suppose if I was a retailer, I would be pretty freaked out about this coming out now, that the orders have been placed and my racks were full of issues of DK III for my customers to decide maybe they didn't want this quite as badly after all (Of course, if I was a retailer, I would have already been driven mad by trying to make sense of the solicitations for this book anyway).

So, as I mentioned in my earlier post on the book, if you approach this comic the right way, it's not bad at all. That right way? As a Frank Miller-drawn sequel to Dark Knight Strikes Again wrapped in an Azzarello-written, Andy Kubert-penciled, Klaus Janson-inked homage to The Dark Knight Returns. Because that is what it is.

In a certain respect, the Master Race story, the Azzarello/Kubert/Janson comic, reminded me of the Before Watchmen books (do note that Azzarello was involved in that project, too). Those were, as far as I could tell without actually reading any, a modern attempt by the publisher to have modern popular creators attempt to recreate one of the most popular and influential works in mainstream comics history, by way of paying homage to the original–and (hopefully) making a lot of money in the process. Where this differs from the Watchmen business, of course, is that DC has a much better relationship with Miller, and they aren't proceeding over the objections of the creator, as they did with Watchmen.

So, let's look at the outer comic first. Kubert does a passable Miller impression, particularly in the Gotham City sequences, and while no one would mistake this for the work of Frank Miller (circa Holy Terror or circa DKR), it's definitely Kubert's Miller impression. Having Miller's inker Janson finishing his pencils no doubt helps immensely.

Azzarello rather unfortunately keeps Miller's very annoying TV media-as-Greek chorus technique going, which is beyond tedious this time around (DKR was like 30 years ago). Kubert draws Jon Stewart, Bill O'Reilly and Al Sharpton as the commentators, along with a generic blonde Fox lady (Megyn Kelly?) and a pair I didn't recognize as the talking heads reacting to the fact that the Dark Knight has returned...again (Say, that might have made for an even more honest title: The Dark Knight Returns...Again).

Azzarello ads a second, more annoying innovation to narration, by having a pair of character text one another back and forth about a Batman sighting, complete with emojis (although, I suppose it's worth noting, the text slang takes fills in for the made-up futuristic street slang of The Mutants from DKR nicely).

The story, at this point more a suggestion of one than anything else, sets a few plates spinning, and breaks one on the final page. In Gotham, Batman has seemingly returned after an absence, beating up cops and making life difficult for the mayor and the current police commissioner. Meanwhile, Wonder Woman (in her Dark Knight Strikes Again costume, fights a monstrous Minotaur/Centaur mash-up in the Amazon, where the Amazons apparently dwell in the Dark Knight-iverse. She does so with a papoose on her back, and when her son starts to cry, she does something I never, ever expected to see in a DC comic:
Yes, that's Wonder Woman preparing to breast-feed her son (in the next panel). If you're going to draw Wonder Woman's nipple in a comic book, that's the way to do it, really, but that doesn't mean I wasn't surprised to see it. DC has apparently given Miller and company a lot of rope here. To be clear, I'm A-OK with nudity in comics, as long as it's in the appropriate comics (while there's not rating on this thing, it's a $6 sequel to an extremely violent comic set in a different universe, and thus it's completely different than, say, characters talking about raping Supergirl in the DCU line, you know?). And there's nothing wrong with breast-feeding. I'm A-OK with that too, in real life, on TV, in comics, wherever. I was just surprised that DC was okay with both of the above, especially when it comes to that particular character.

Anyway, Wonder Woman has a son now. Who's the father? Is it Superman's? Maybe. After all, they had a daughter together in Dark Knight Strikes Again, and she's in this issue too, albeit grown-up and wearing a lamer costume (I really dug Miller's costume designs for DK2; I wish he was consulted for when it came time to redesign the whole DCU for the New 52). She's off visiting her dad in his Fortress of Solitude, where he is encased in ice. Dead? Probably not. He's Superman.

Back in Gotham, the cops beat the crap out of Batman and unmask him only to discover...well, you'll see.

Halfway through is a 12-page mini-comic entitled Dark Knight Universe Present: The Atom #1. It's wraparound cover, by Miller, features Superman trying to land a punch on a tiny Atom before the Bat-signal. This comic's writing credits echo those of the main comic. There's the enigmatic "Based on The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller" credit that starts them off, then a "Written by Frank MIller and Brian Azzarello." This one is clearly penciled by Miller though, so his contribution isn't something anyone–even Miller–can dispute.

His style is right were it left off in Holy Terror, meaning these super-characters look pretty much as they did in DK2, only maybe rougher. In Master Race, Supergirl visits the Fortress and finds the Bottle City of Kandor. In The Atom, she delivers it to The Atom Ray Palmer, who she apparently hopes can restore the Kandorians to their original size.

The comic starts with The Atom battling a "dinosaur," which, of course, turns out to be a lizard drawn without reference. Then there's a neat reveal or two. There's not a whole lot to it, obviously, but Miller art is always welcome, and it's nice to see it applied to new characters, which was one of the greatest treats of DK2. His Atom is redesigned, but slightly so; I like the new costume. It's still not as good as the original Atom costume, but, well, that's one of the all-time great costumes. That's like trying to redesign Superman or The Flash and coming up with something better–it just can't be done.

The format is weird, but fun, and the mini-comic seems particularly well-suited for this character, who, after all, is all about being small. I'm actually kind surprised DC or Marvel haven't thought to do this with The Atom or Ant-Man before.

So, Dark Knight III...? It's good. It's probably not what a lot of fans and/or readers will have expected or wanted, but then, I don't know what one should expect at this point. To me, it read like a Before Watchmen-style sequel to Miller's previous two Dark Knight series by other creators, with a mini-comic in the style of Dark Knight Strikes Again glued into the middle. It's $5.99/40-pages, so while it feels...wrong to buy a single comic book with a $10 bill and get so little back in change, that's the standard price point and page-count for two DC comic books, only they at least spare us ads, making this prestige project feel a little more prestigious than usual.

DC Comics Bombshells #5 (DC) You know DC, you don't have to publish this on a regular schedule or anything. I mean, it's just an out-of-continuity comic starring a bunch of versions of characters who already have their own comics (um, with the exception of Supergirl, I guess, because why would you want a Supergirl comic on the stands when there's a Supergirl TV show getting everyone talking about Supergirl all the time?). I mean, if you want to go bi-monthly or so to give artist Marguerite Sauvage more time to draw sections of the book, I wouldn't complain. As much fun as writer Marguerite Bennett's scripting may be, as talented as some of the other artists to contribute to the book may be, it was really Sauvage's luminous art work that made the first issue of the series–and passages of some subsequent issues–into must-read comics.

This fifth, 30-page issue of the digital-first series is, sadly, another Sauvage-less one. We get some fine art from the likes of Ming Doyle, Mirka Andolfo and Bilquis Evely but, alsa, none of them are Sauvage. The issue features three chapters, one drawn by each of the artists, and each following a different character or group of characters. Wonder Woman, despite occupying the cover of this issue, is not one of the characters in this particular issue.

In Berlin, Batwoman goes undercover to meet the Bombshells-iverse's versions of Lex Luthor and Catwoman (and to witness some of the rather tiresome Nazi occult stuff firsthand); in France, Holiday Variant Harley Quinn meets Poison Ivy (in a sequence that seemed too cartoony to fit in tonally with the story around it, at least as concerns Harley's entrance into Ivy's greenhouse); and, finally, back in the Soviet Union, Stargirl and Supergirl attempt to rescue their parents from the clutches of General Arkayn.

If you saw that last name in previous issues and thought, "Hey, that sounds like Arcane, as in Swamp Thing villain Anton Arcane; I wonder if that means Swampy will make an appearance?"...well, you get your answer this issue, and it's an affirmative. Swampy does not wear negligee or garters or stockings; he neither dresses nor poses like a 1940s pin-up girl. Sorry, anyone hoping for a DC Comics Bombshells Swamp Thing collectible statue (and/or glow-in-the-dark variant)!

Providence #5 (Avatar Press) Did the rape scenes in writer Alan Moore and artist Jacen Burrows' previous H.P. Lovecraft-related project for Avatar, Neonomicon disgust, sicken, enrage, offend or even just irritate you? If so, you're not going to want to read this issue, which has a rape scene. It doesn't involve a monster, so, in that respect, it may not at first seem to be as scary as that in Neonomicon, but, on the other hand, it is visually more realistic (i.e. there are two human bodies involved) and because there are minds being shuffled between bodies during the act, it's psychologically pretty messed-up and scary.

I didn't think the scenes in Neonomicon were wrong, at least, not in a way that the authors didn't intend them to be wrong (that is, they were horrifying elements of a horror story). The scene in this comic, however, seemed infinitely ickier to me, even though it is still body and psychological horror in a horror comic.

Hey, there are new comics from both Frank Miller and Alan Moore out on the same Wednesday. That...doesn't happen all that often.

Saga #31 (Image Comics) Hey, Saga is back! this issue kicks off a new chapter in the book, although maybe "chapter" isn't the right word, since they label their issues as chapters with the word "chapter" right there on the cover and everything.

Well, whatever you want to call it, this issue has a time-jump, and we catch up with the now four-year-old Hazel in some kind of prison camp kindergarten, with the "how" explained via flashback.

Fiona Staples draws a penis in a rather unexpected place in this issue, and she also draws an adorable bipedal pig wearing a lab coat. Saga has the best aliens.


Greg said...

The black man and white woman are Michael Strahan and Kelly Ripa. I think the solo white woman is supposed to be Megyn Kelly, but she's had short hair for quite a while, so I would assume Kubert would have shown that. Or maybe it's someone else.

Jack_Acid said...

I missed this post when it came out, but saw you are still reading and reviewing Providence in a couple of later posts. I was a fan of the book until this issue, and I have been checking out how critics have responded to this issue. There is little outrage, and I'm not sure why. The issue shows not just a rape, but child sex. Inarguable sex with a 13 year old and an adult. I appreciate your squeamishness, but don't appreciate your writing the act off as just the this is not for you type of act in a horror book. This is abhorrent and unnecessary. It is not just offensive, but inexcusable. I hope you reconsider reading the series and recommending it to others. It's child sex.