Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Comic Shop Comics: December 30

Batman & Robin Eternal #13 (DC Comics) Yes, that's Cassandra Cain with a Bat-symbol drawn like a mask over her face in thick, soup, bright red blood. She actually did a very good job of it, considering she did it with no mirror and in less than a second. It's not the weirdest, grossest, goriest thing in this issue; that would probably be her father David Cain/The Orphan (now with a robot arm) dumping her into a pit full of the freshly dead corpses of children. That's where she got the blood to draw the bat-shaped mask, you see. This issue, scripted by co-plotter James Tynion IV and drawn by Marcio Takara, features Cassandra breaking into the weird, sci-fi fortress base of Mother, while flashbacking to her own origin story throughout. It's...fine, I suppose. At this point, I find myself just as interested in what will become of Cassandra after this title ends as I am as to its mystery/-ies, like which of his sidekicks Batman attempted to buy from Mother.

Black Canary #6 (DC) Hey, the Looney Tunes variant cover by Piea Guerra and Spike Brandt was the one in my pull-file, which is just as well, as this was one of my favorite of the Looney Tunes variant covers. This issue seems to conclude the often confusing opening story arc of the series thus far, although the cliffhanger ending and a few loose threads suggest that perhaps this is just the climax, with the real conclusion coming next issue.

Writer Brenden Fletcher's idea of a "battle of the bands" is an unusual one, as it features Black Canary (the band) and BO M (their rival band), setting up side-by-side on the same stage and playing simultaneously. That's...not how it works. Luckily, we get a more literal "battle," as Black Canary (the superhero) fights the super-powered members of BO M one at a time for the best part of the issue, a passage that realizes the rock band-that-brawls-on-stage suggestion of the first issue. Some strange stuff happens, and much of the title's story remains elusive to me (in that frustrating way that I can't tell if Fletcher is leaving stuff out or making the narrative a little too opaque accidentally, or if I'm just supposed to know details about Black Canary's background from the pages of Team 7 or Birds of Prey).

Annie Wu's art remains as gorgeous as always, there are some really great bits of pure art story-telling in here and I particularly liked some of the cutesy business during the fight scene, like Black Canary writing music with her fists as notes.

As with the previous five issues, I don't quite like this as much as I'd like to like it, and, to be honest, I wouldn't mind terribly if it was cancelled and replaced on the schedule by a new Birds of Prey book featuring the line-up on the cover of an upcoming issue of Batgirl. That would certainly free Wu up to draw this theoretical new BOP book...!

Doctor Fate #7 (DC) I don't want to jinx it, but I think the seven-issue origin story arc of the new Doctor Fate, in which he fights Anubis and attempts to thwart the Egyptian god of the dead's plot to destroy earth by drowning it for one-hundred-and-forty fucking pages is finally, finally over. Please...? I hope...?

This is maybe artist Sonny Liew's strongest cover to date, and the imagery within is also probably his strongest, as Paul Levitz's scrit takes our hero and villain to the ancient Egyptian underworld, and Liew therefore gets all kinds of cool shit to draw. Like Black Canary, this is another book I really want to like, but the scripts of which leave me not liking it as much as I feel like I should.

Jughead #3 (Archie Comics) Our boy Jughead finally puts it all together and unravels new principal Mr. Stanger's evil plan for Riverdale High School...unfortunately, he does during another in-story dream-sequence, this one a "Man From R.I.V.E.R.D.A.L.E." sequence in which Jughead, Archie, Betty and Kevin are all agents, trying to save their school from the robot infiltrators of C.R.U.S.H.

I particularly appreciated that this issue provided artist Erica Henderson (who, between this and Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is drawing not one, but two of the best mainstream comic* comics** available at your local comic shop) the opportunity to draw so many of Jughead's classmates: Archie, Betty, Veronica, Chuck, Kevin, Moose, Dilton, Reggie and other Riverdale residents).

I kinda wish Archie would knock it off with all these damn variant covers though, and just publish the ones by the interior artist. I mean, I love Ty Templeton's art, but I'm not crazy about his Jughead, and would have preferred Henderson's cover.

*By which I mean "funny."

**By which I mean "comic books."

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

On Superman: American Alien #2

Writer Max Landis is working with a murderers' row of great artists on his American Alien maxi-series, which is kind of too bad for the rest of the Superman line, given how much better the first two issues of this series have looked compared to, say, the last two issues of Superman, drawn by Howard Porter. In this issue, Landis is working with artist Tommy Lee Edwards, whose pages are filled with panels in his particular style, which balances realism with slightly scratchy, sketch-accented cartooning.

Landis' version of the young Clark Kent–this has so far been more of a Superboy, in a "The Adventures of Superman When He Was a Boy" sense, than a Superman comic–is markedly different than past ones. It's far more realistic, for better or worse, and it features a different take on just how secret the Kent boy's abilities really are/were. Here, they are something of an open-secret, with several other local adults knowing there was something very unusual about Kent in the last issue, and, in this issue, there are several characters–including Pete Ross and another unnamed school friend and the sheriff–who know that Kent has x-ray vision and other abilities.

Two issues in, American Alien is at the least rather engaging, as the departures are great enough that a reader really has no idea what to expect (except that Superman will fight Doomsday at some point, as both issues ended with a one-page, Evan Shaner-drawn strip featuring Doomsday narrating like he's The Hulk as he floats through space).

Landis' version of Superman-as-a-teenager is perhaps not just unique, but weird in how realistic it is. I mean, this is a Clark Kent who gets horny, swears, uses his x-ray vision to peep on girls, drink beer while underage and even lies about the underage drinking an officer of the law! I guess that makes him more real, but it also makes him less...Superman...?

I'm a little ambivalent about this particular portrayal of Clark Kent as a regular kid–that is, not a paragon of morality, a Christ-like sin-less figure to aspire to emulating–and it sort of depresses me a bit that his using his powers more selfishly, or behaving like we might (or the bad kids in our high school classes might have) is regarding as more realistic.

The issue did contain one thing I really liked, and one that I didn't really like at all, however.

Kent offers an explanation for why he doesn't really use his x-ray vision to look through women's clothes constantly, which rationalizes this saintly decision to not just be a 24/7 peeping tom, but is also realistic and something I've never thought of.
I...can't imagine what a woman's breasts might look like while in a bra, not having x-ray vision myself, but I'll buy that. That makes sense.

The part I didn't like?

Clark Kent straight-up melts a dude's arms off with his heat-vision. This is Clark's first apparent attempt at crime-fighting, and he does it quite reluctantly and obviously doesn't have control of his powers yet, but holy shit, that is some graphic, gory action in a Superman/Superboy comic, isn't it?


I do like to imagine DC's Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns, a big fan of severed arms in superhero comics, reading Landis' script for this, nodding slowly and thoughtfully and thinking to himself, "Two arms, severed simultaneously...Yes, yes...I like the cut of this Landis kid's jib."

Monday, December 28, 2015

A few quick notes on Harley's Little Black Book #1

DC's recently launched Harley's Little Black Book is a bi-monthly team-up pairing the writing team of the Harley Quinn monthly with rotating artists, and it's seemingly patterned after old-school team-up books like The Brave and the Bold, which teamed Batman with a different DC character each issue, and DC Comics Presents, which did the same with Superman.

As I mentioned when it was first announced, it doesn't seem like a bad idea for a book at all, really, nor does it seem to threaten "Peak Harley," as the publisher continues to find new ways to cash in on the character's rather sudden and random popularity (her prominent place in the upcoming film Suicide Squad should help sustain that popularity for a few more publishing quarters, too). Considering the many one-shot specials and miniseries that the Harley Quinn writing team of Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner have been pumping out ever since it became apparent their particular take on the character (Sexy Deadpool) was a popular one, if Little Black Book simply replaces all those other Harley books on the shelves, the actual number of Palmiotti and Conner-written Harley comics pages will remain more-or-less consistent.

This first issue teams Harley with Wonder Woman, complete with a particularly elaborate variant cover scheme involving opaque-polybags to disguise which version of the cover you get (this scheme was stretched out across a chunk of the DC line, actually, to help "celebrate" the release of this book). But let's forget that the comics industry has returned to polybabbing comics (which, incidentally, makes them impossible to flip-through and, at least tacitly, encourages certain readers to either never open them at all, or buy two copies, one to open and one to keep sealed so it will retain it's original "value" of what will almost certainly be "less than the paper it's printed on," if the past is a good indication of what might occur in the future).

Reading the first issue, I was most struck by how it read just like another, extra issue of the parent title. There's no attempt to contextualize the goings-on of the book–which includes Harley at the head of a large, Harley Quinn-themed gang with goofy names, assisted by a re-re-booted version of the old Wonder Woman villain Egg Fu–and, for better or worse, simply squeezes the guest-star into the proceedings.

The plot is that the Gang of Harleys, or "Gang a' Harleys" as Harley refers to them, have stumbled on a London-based supervillain's plot to kill London-based superhero Wonder Woman. The villain is named "Barmy Bugger," and he's "The London Legion of Superheroes' number one villain," according to Harley's Oracle, Egg Fu. As a closet Wonder Woman fan, Harley can't let this happen, but she also wants to be in on the save herself, so as to team up with Wondy. She therefore launches a dumb plan to travel to London and replace Wonder Woman.

Conner draws most of the book, while John Timms draws about 12 pages. Conner's relatively heavy involvement in the art chores should be reason enough for many Harley Quinn fans to pick up the book; the main criticism of Harley Quinn's art has been that, as good as the interiors might be, they're not drawn by Conner, a fan-favorite artist who mostly just provides covers.

Bottom line, if you like the monthly Harley Quinn, you should like this just fine; if you're reading it just for Wonder Woman, though, well, keep in mind it's very much a Harley Quinn comic in which Wonder Woman happens to appear.

There are a few things I wanted to point out:

1.) The narration boxes are designed to resemble the ruled or lined paper one might find in a notebook or journal, albeit colored red bleeding into black, with white font. The suggestion is that it's written by Harley herself, then, as she's narrating in first-person (Do note those opaque polybags feature Harley scribbling in a notebook). However, Harley writes in her accent, which is fucking weird.

2.) The continuity of this comic doesn't work, like, at all.

Remember that the current DC Universe is about six years old or so, with Justice League #1 being set "five years ago." That was the first comic of The New 52 continuity, and that first story arc featured the first meetings between Superman and Batman, Batman and Green Lantern Hal Jordan, Everyone and Wonder Woman, Everyone and Aquaman, et cetera. The characters were all presumably around for a few months previously (Batman and Superman had time to change costumes from those they wore during the first volume of Action Comics and "Zero Year" respectively, for example, and Hal Jordan met The Flash previously, and so on). If we consider the fact that the "present" of September 2011 is now about a year or two ago (according to the pages of Batman), well, we're looking at a Wonder Woman who has been active in Man's World for, what, seven years, tops?

Now, how old is Harley Quinn, exactly? At least 25, right?

And yet, when she was in grade school "Years and years ago," she was watching TV footage of Wonder Woman (in the pre-New 52 costume that shouldn't exist anymore) and idolizing the Amazon princess/superhero, to the extent that she even dressed up in an old-school, 1970s-era plastic mask and Wonder Woman costume (again, a pre-New 52 version) to beat up some bullies at school, nearly hanging one to death.

This...doesn't work. Even if we allow that Flashback Harley was, I don't know, as old as 11, and even if we allow that Wonder Woman has been a public superhero for as many as seven years, that would make current Harley Quinn only 18, which is pretty impossible, considering she's been active for 5-7 years as Harley Quinn too (and, at some point, had to go to college and grad school and get a doctorate prior to even becoming Harley Quinn).

Yes, I know I am being that guy, but that's just because I am that guy! Please mark this down as Reason #345,627 on your list of Why The New 52 Reboot Was a Bad Idea. The timeline in this story would have worked fine in the pre-Flashpoint DCU, but doesn't work in The New 52 at all. If you think about such things at all. And maybe you need not. While Harley Quinn and this book are both set squarely in-continuity, they do tend to play a bit faster and looser with the "rules" of the shared setting, to the point that sometimes the Harley who appears here seems to be a completely different one than the one who is part of Suicide Squad's ensemble, or appears elsewhere in the DCU.

3.) This is at least the second time that Palmiotti and Conner do the Harley Quinn's-boobs-aren't-as-big-as-another-heroine's gag. They previously used it on a cover of the parent title in which Harley tries on guest-star Power Girl's costume, but can't fill it out.

Here she strips Wonder Woman of her costume and puts it on herself, needing to tape it up to keep it on. When Wonder Woman awakens naked in her own bathtub amid a firefight, she's apparently forced to dress in the only clothes available to her: Harley's discarded and way-too-small costume, giving Conner the opportunity to draw Wonder Woman exploding out of that.
It's a gag they are fond of enough that it's also used as the cover for this issue.

Well, the regular cover (above), not the image on the polybag, or one of the three variant covers that might be inside the polybagged version.

4.) I did really like the Wonder Woman car chase secene, which does not involve Wonder Woman in a car. She's first shown chasing a speeding car down on foot...
...and then later leaps/flies over the car to land in front of it, where she somehow manages to slice it completely in half with her sword...
It's a big, stupid scene that doesn't make sense (the car-chopping, not the other parts), but it's also pretty awesome, and, as well all know, in the world of superhero comics, if something is sufficiently awesome, it doesn't have to make sense.

So whatever other weaknesses the book might have–and, again, if you like Harley Quinn, then you'll like Harley's Little Black Book–it at least has that scene going for it.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Review: Patsy Walker, AKA Hellcat #1

Writer Kate Leth and artist Brittney L. Williams' new Hellcat book is pretty interesting in the way it seems to spin-off from Charles Soule, Javier Pulido and company's cancelled She-Hulk series, in which Hellcat was a supporting character. Since that book completely ended, this feels a little less like a traditional spin-off, and more like She-Hulk handing a baton to Hellcat in a relay race (and Soule and Pulido handing their baton to Leth and Williams0, and the new characters and creators all running off in their own direction.

The book's very first panel is set in She-Hulk's office in a Brooklyn building that She-Hulk's supporting character Sharon King rents out exclusively to super-types, as they tend to not fit in other shared-spaces. Patsy Walker is in the middle of a presentation to King and Shulkie proposing "Super Temp: The Patsy Walker Agency for Heroes and Other Cool Friends What are In Need of Work." From there the story flashes back to where Patsy came up with the idea, beginning with a big half-page panel–with five little cat head-shaped mini-panels embedded into it explaining her past and powers and status quo briefly.*

Patsy thwarts a crime committed by a new mutant Inhuman with telekinetic powers, then she spends some time with him, befriends him and ends up moving in with him as his roommate. It's his desire to use his powers to make money but not fight crime that inspires her business plan; imagine a Heroes For Hire, but where the heroes don't really engage in day-saving and villain-fighting so much as, say, moving heavy boxes or retrieving valuable items dropped down city sewer drains.

There's an awful lot going on in this issue–Patsy loses her job and "home," meets a character from the old Patsy Walker comics and discovers that her old frenemy is selling reprint trade collections of those old Patsy Walker comics and making plenty of bank off of 'em–without cutting the title character in on the profits. She also decides to start her new business, and get a job in retail. Oh, and also everyone goes out for drinks.

Leth's script tells a story that could pretty much only be told in a place like the Marvel Universe's New York, which is so crowded with superheroes and super-characters with long and complex histories. I mean, Patsy is a cat-themed superhero whose mother wrote romance comics based on her and her friends' teenage lives and who's most recent job has been working as an investigator a hulk/lawyer in New York City. She's also been an Avenger, and married the son of Satan. Not exactly your typically leading lady, and therefore this isn't the exact sort of story that can be transferred to another hero or setting.

The focus is street-level, but not street-level in the usual sense of the terms, as in "grim, gritty street crime in dark allies," but rather a sort of day-time street-level, as in "walking around the streets in the middle of the afternoon." The concerns are broad, daily, universal ones. Where are you going to live, what are you going to do with your life, where is your next paycheck coming from, why can't you meet a nice person on your dating app, etc.

Williams' art is super-sharp and super-crisp, and color artist Megan Wilson makes it brilliant. Williams' art evokes the style of Colleen Coover crossed with that of Chynna Clugston, but she also has a very good range when it comes to the designs, so that She-Hulk is a big, bold hourglass, and Tom (formerly Tubs) is bigger, burlier and rounder than Ian. She also occasionally shrinks Patsy into a smaller, squatter figure for comedic effect. It's not quite "super-deformed" as in manga and anime, but headed in that direction; call it deformed.

While Patsy is a pretty different character from She-Hulk, in personality as well as powers and appearance, this is a nice successor to She-Hulk, and the cheerful heroine with smaller-scale problems and light-hearted adventure makes this a great, heroine-focused book that should prove especially appealing to fans of such recent-ish Marvel books as Ms. Marvel and The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.

*Williams draws one awesome Daimon Hellstrom, Son of Satan. I sure hope he appears in this eventually, based sole on how sweet Williams' drawing of him is. I have no idea who the guy who looks like Batman with a sweet mustache is, though.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Comic Shop Comics: December 23

Batman & Robin Eternal #12 (DC Comics) This issue continues the major sequence from the previous one, in which Dick Grayson and Harper Row learn of Cassandra Cain's origin–and Batman's secret deal with Mother to acquire a perfect Robin–via psychic exposition provided my the mysterious telepathic character dubbed The Scluptor. Batman apparently told Mother he wanted to be directly involved with the creation of this particular Robin, shooting that Robin's parents to death himself with a gun, which seems to narrow the Robin in question down to Jason Todd. But does that really work? Because Jason Todd is the worst Robin. Actually, I don't know if it even works as all, as I don't know if Jason Todd's parents were shot to death or not; I just know that Dick's and Tim's weren't. Ed Brisson handles the script this issue, while Javier Pina and Goran Sudzuka handle the art chores. It all looks pretty good.

DC Comics Bombshells #7 (DC) Another blasted, Marguerite Sauvage-less issue of Bombshells. Given that Sauvage's art was the very best part of the Bombshells so far, that means that this is yet another disappointing installment of the otherwise excellent series reimagining a World War II-era DC Universe where most of the super-people happen to be ladies.

This issue is the first part of a new story arc entitled "Allies," and, in it, we return to the homefront to see how things are going in Gotham City during Batwoman's absence. As was telegraphed in an earlier chapter, Harper Row has indeed become Batgirl, along with her friends from the garage she works at. In fact, there are a whole bunch of girls–and a couple of boys–who pick up bats and don masks to become Batgirls and Batboys. By the last panel, artist Mirka Andolfo's allusion to a pretty famous photograph, there are eight kids in the Gotham-based, baseball-themed vigilante gang. These include Batgirls Harper Row, Bette Kane and (most surprisingly) Alysia Yeoh, plus three other Batgirls whose civilian names I didn't recognize at all (If any of you do, however, do tell; I was kinda surprised they had that many Batgirls and didn't name any Cassandra, Stephanie or Barbara). As for Batboys, we've got Cullen Row and Tim Drake.

A side-story that doesn't seem to have anything to do with the overarching Bombshells plot, but simply to expand the setting to include more characters, "Allies" focuses on characters standing up against a crooked landlord to defend immigrants/refugees, busting a corrupt orphanage and, because this is a superhero comic still, fighting a giant robot.

It's interesting because of how tangental it is to the series, I suppose, and because, purposefully or not, it meta-references a once-popular, Golden Age sub-genre that's long since disappeared: The big city kids gang comics. I suppose it's also interesting that Bennett has made Alysia into a superhero character in this reality, whereas she was originally just a supporting character with a somewhat clumsy, inclusion-focused introduction in Batgirl.

Saga #32 (Image Comics) I once called out the poor placement of a dialogue balloon in a Nightwing comic that made it look as if Dick Grayson's butt was talking, so I suppose I should point out that there's a panel in this issue where it appears that Alana's vagina is talking to Marko:
That's right, Alana and Marko are in this issue. After the last time-jump forward, we check in with Hazel's parents and a few other characters, and see what they look like and what they've been up to in the years since Hazel went from toddler to little girl.

It's...well, it's Saga. It's rock-solid consistent. You either love it as you've always loved it, or you're not reading it.

Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe #10 (IDW Publishing) Hey, it's the latest issue of the great comic book series currently in production! Last year, Tom Sicoli and John Barber's Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe was my favorite comic of 2014, and what I considered to be one of the best comics of 2014 (which aren't the same thing at all), and now that 2015 has only one more Wednesday left in it, I feel confident saying the same thing for this year.

This issue is fairly Joe-focused in terms of scale, with only Megatron and Perceptor appearing for much panel-time, at least before the last few pages, where the Joes learn of Transformers creation myths. As is always the case, this issue is full of so many awesome things, it's hard to settle on the most awesome. I really liked the simple, throwaway panel in which Tunnel Rat drops a machine gun into the kitchen where Roadblock has been working, and Scioli draws the belt of bullets that feeds into it in this beautiful, whirlpool-ing curlicue.
There are an awful lot of deaths issue–I counted six Joes and two Cobra characters KIA–and they're all pretty spectacular in a I-never-expected-to-see-a-G.I. Joe-character-die-in-that-particular-fashion kind of deaths.

I'm torn on my favorite part; either the fact that The Dreadnoks have to sit at the kiddy table during a Cobra banquet feating the destruction of the Earth (according to everyone in this comic, the Earth ended and the only human beings left alive are those on Cybertron) or the three-panel battle between Snake Eyes and Stormshadow, which is fantastic.

I sorely missed the creator commentary by Scioli and Barber that generally follows each issue, but in its place was something equally cool: A prose story by the pair featuring Shockwave's attempts to resurrect his dead brother Soundwave, and Snake Eyes' taming of Ravage as a steed, upon which he travels to the Transformers underworld. I never thought I would have any interest in Transformers-related prose fiction, but I'll be damned if this wasn't as well-written as anything else in this series, with some nice turns of phrase, a few really funny bits and the same sorts of inspired, unexpected but ultimately logical connection-drawing that the pair have engaged in, like linking Megatron to the angel Metatron.

Oh, and this story notes the origin of the slur "Gobots," which is what the Joes have been calling the Transformers. I mean, you and I know where it comes from, but, according to Snake Eyes, it comes from a movie in his fictional universe, Gobots Vs. M.A.S.K.. Does IDW own the rights to those two franchises? Because something tells me that, if they do, we'll be seeing excerpts of that film appearing in the pages of this comic at some point.

Advice to a young comics writer

Something you may wish to keep in mind as you embark on a career of a comic book writer, particularly if given the relatively rare chance to work on one of the premiere characters from one of the premiere publishers in the North American comic book industry, is that in our era of 24/7 social media immersion, you should probably be careful regarding what you say, who you say it to and how you say it.

I don't mean this in some sort of "Watch what you say!," speech- or thought-policing kind of way. I'm not in law enforcement, government or any position of authority...or even gate-keeping. But I am a guy who reads comic books, I'm a guy who buys comic books and I'm a guy who writes about comic books a lot, which often includes a degree of suggesting to others which comic books they should read and which they shouldn't read.

Despite being on Twitter and Facebook and having a blog, I'm not terribly engaged with social media, and didn't have any idea who you were, or that you even existed, until I read the first issue of your new comic book series a month or so ago. So I imagine you must have been saying some very incendiary and/or offensive and/or dumb things on social media of late, because every time I check Facebook, another person on my friends list is complaining about the apparently noxious things you've been saying lately, and even people I know in real life are talking to me about it in real life.

That's not real great PR for your just-launched comic book series, and  if you plan on making a career out of writing comic books, it's probably best to be known as The Guy Who Wrote That Really Good Comic Book Series and not The Guy Who Said a Bunch of Dumb Stuff on The Internet and Pissed Everyone Off. Because that perception does matter; I mean, I still don't really know who you are, and haven't read your comments myself, but I did read that first issue of your comic book series and liked it a lot. I was looking forward to reading the rest of it. I'd prefer to think of you as a comic writer and not some Internet troll, but when trollish comments outweigh your comic book output, that can become a challenge. (And, again, I'm just an extremely-engaged reader and semi-professional critic; while you don't want to piss off too many readers, as it will effect the sales of your books, you certainly don't want to piss off comics retailers, fellow comics writers, comics artist and publishers, as you'll find yourself out of work pretty quickly.)

Now if you're just doing your own self-published thing, hell, rant away. But if you're working on a corporate-owned, iconic character, with a variety of excellent artists, for a major publisher, mouthing-off idiotically has consequences for people other than you personally. If sales on your book take a hit, it affects the artists you are collaborating with, as well as the other people involved in every aspect of creation of the book. And if you become The Most Hated Man In Comics, well, you're not exactly rewarding the publisher's faith in you, as they took a risk granting such a high-profile book to a complete novice. Besides, the book you're working on started out very good, and so far at least seems to be the sort of book that would make for an excellent, evergreen collection that the publisher could keep in print and selling for pretty much forever, which means royalties for you and you collaborators for pretty much forever.

Now, it's certainly not impossible to make huge swathes of the comics industry hate you while still having a successful career in the field--there are tons of unlikable, even loathsome people in this industry making a living doing what they love!--but they tend to have a whole body of reliably high-quality work they can fall back on to prove that their current and future work is worthy of attention no matter what you might think of them personally, or, at the very least,to have  a huge fan-base to support them and their current and future work when the rest of the world turns their backs on them.

You might want to keep more loathsome opinions to yourself when you're just getting started or, if you feel the need to tweet about these opinions, at least do so between major comics projects, rather than directly on the heels of your very first issue. Retailers should just now be starting to place orders for the second half of your new series, after all.

That, or you can always try to find work in another entertainment industry where one can be a terrible human being and still make a decent living with little in the way of achievement to their name, regardless of how many people despise them. Maybe try  filmmaking...?

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Review: Krampus: The Shadow of St. Nicholas

This is an official tie-in graphic novel to director Michael Doughterty's holiday horror comedy Krampus, published by Legendary Comics, which exists almost exclusively to publish graphic novel tie-ins to Legendary studio movies (rare exceptions include Frank Miller's awful Holy Terror and movie-pitch comics like The Tower Chronicles, Annihilator and a few others I've never actually seen show up in comic shops).

Despite my overwhelming curiosity and the fact that this was released a week or two prior to the film's release, I held off on reading it until after I saw the movie, which is probably the best way to consume the two, if you're interested in doing so: While the comic is only rather loosely related, The Krampus and his minions all appear within the graphic novel (as do some of his means of dispatching some victims), which would suck some of the surprise out of the film. And the film's best feature is its surprises and the interesting designs the villains bear.

Michael Dougherty, the director of Krampus (and the far better received Trick 'r Treat) shares a "story" credit with his two co-writers on the film on the four interconnected stories in the graphic novel. It's the co-writers, Todd Casey and Zach Shields, who handle the actual scripting of the stories, with Laura Shields assisting one one of them. Each is drawn by a different artist and, oddly, there are two colorists, one of whom is Guy Davis, who is definitely the guy you want coloring your horror comics.

Dougherty provides a nice introduction to the book, detailing his life-time preference of Halloween over Christmas, and the fact that it wasn't until he learned about the Krampus that he found an "in" to get into Christmas, as Krampus brought a bit of Halloween into the hollier, jollier holiday.

If one was expecting anything in the form of an origin or explanation for Krampus in this book, or even more background then what is on-screen in the film, one will be disappointed; he's even less of a presence here than he is in the film, appearing in about two scenes, and these stories explore Dougherty and company's very specific, very personal take on the legend, wherein Krampus is a demonic reverse-Santa Claus, coming with his cohorts to kill off the naughty, slasher movie-style. (The animated flashback in the film delivers more of what one might expect in terms of a prequel than this comic, which reads more like an expansion of the film, an alternate draft, perhaps, then a true prequel...or sequel.)

In the first story, a Vietnam vet bad Santa finds himself forced into pulling a Die Hard in a department store (I guess there are still department stores somewhere?) when a freak, Krampus-driven blizzard shuts the city down. The monster toys and the wooden mask-wearing elves of the movie stalk the survivors as they try to make their way to safety.

In the second, a policewoman and criminal with a unique and tragic bond find themselves thrown together...and fighting Krampus elves as the blizzard shuts the town down.

In the third, a large family of squatters are pushed out of an about-to-be-demolished home, and take up temporary residence in the mansion belonging to the real estate magnate responsible as a sort of revenge. Their plan was to just spend Christmas there, since he was supposed to be out of town, but he returns early and binds them all for the police...although it's monster toys and elves that come for them all first.

And, in the fourth, that same real estate magnate gets the Christmas Carol treatment, complete with the Three Ghosts of Christmas, and suffers a weird-ass fate: He's turned into one of the monster toys. If there's new information here, it's in where those toys come from. The elves set up a toy shop in the department store, and, as we see in the final story that ties them all together, they turn their victims into the toys...? I guess...?

Surprisingly, the tone of the ending is opposite of that of the film, which has an unexpected double-reversal. Here, there's only one reversal. Perhaps Dougherty just didn't want to give away the end of his film in a prequel graphic novel, but, read after the film, the sincerity and complete lack of cynicism in the ending is a real surprise.

The art is nothing to get too terribly excited about. The great Fiona Staples is involved, but she only provides the cover. Christian Dibari, who draws the first story–Bad Santa meets Die Hard!–provides probably the best artwork, although its notably static, and occasionally the action is difficult to parse. (That is, in the most confusing scene, because it's not until the fourth story that what happens in a scene in this story is explained).

Maan House, who has an extremely realistic style, does a fine job on the second story, but the inspired design-work of the film's bad guys just doesn't translate as well to comics. Stuart Sayger and Michael Montentat draw the last two chapters, and both have highly expressive styles, which clash with what preceded them, and often sacrifice clarity.

There's some interesting ideas in here–the first story in particular seems like it could have been the premise for a Krampus sequel–but it's mostly pretty generic stuff, repeating or pre-peating aspects of the film, depending on what order you experience film and comic in.

I still wouldn't mind reading a Krampus comic set in the "world" of the film, one that expands on the character's history in some way (a book-length version of that flashback scene from the film, for example), or a nastier, more direct, less muddled attempt to tell the Krampus vs. Christmas story that the film seemed to at least be attempting occasionally. This isn't that comic, though; after Dougherty's prose intro, it's basically all downhill, at toboggan speed.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

If this is true (and I have no reason to doubt the good people at National Geographic on this matter)

...then how come the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles don't have a villain who is a mutant butterfly, who is always trying to hurt their feelings or make them sad in order to get them to cry, so he or she can drink their sweet, sweet turtle tears...?

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Marvel's March previews reviewed

I have no idea why Mike Allred, who seems like a pretty busy guy between Silver Surfer and Art Ops, is doing a cover for Deadpool--maybe the cancellation of Batman '66 means he's got room in his schedule for an extra cover a month elsewhere now?--but I like Mike Allred and I like bees, so I'm going to go ahead and use that at the top of this post about Marvel's March solicitations.

It looks like a relatively quiet month at Marvel, with no really big events (some Avengers thing with a vague-ish title following the previous month's Avengers comics with vague-ish titles that make me wonder what the hell it could be about is all). There are no big new launches  and no cancellations. Their variant theme/scheme seems to be "Women of Power" variants, in celebration of Women's History Month; from what info they've released so far, those appear to simply be portrait-style covers featuring lady characters, and/or lady artists, but I guess we'll find out if it's more unified than that as more images surface (If you look closely at all the solicits, you'll notice several are by "TBA").

For the complete listings of what Marvel intends to publish in March, check out this post at Comics Alliance. To see what I think is worth mentioning, you can just hang out here for a few more minutes...

Chris Samnee & Mark Waid (w) • CHRIS SAMNEE (a/C)
The Eisner Award-winning team of Mark Waid and Chris Samnee are taking Black Widow on the lam! Natasha has spent years gathering secrets, and when some of the darkest ones begin mysteriously going public, no one is safe. With her betrayed former confederates at S.H.I.E.L.D. on her heels and a lifetime of training and ingenuity at her disposal, Natasha's out for answers in a knock-down-drag-out tale of action and espionage! Hidden enemies, old friends and unusual allies collide, and all eyes are on Black Widow. The chase is on!
32 PGS./Rated T+ ...$3.99

Great to see Marvel assigning a top-notch creative team to Black Widow, maybe their number one most recognizable female superhero thanks to Scarlett Johansson and...well, more movies than I can count at this point. Four, maybe...? Or has it been more than that already...?

Anyway, Marvel completely rejuvenated Daredevil and made it a clockwork-regular sales performer simply by assigning Mark Waid to it and pairing him with a series of fantastic artists, the last of which was Samnee. So Waid/Samnee is a pretty perfect team for any character in need of a push, I imagine.

• A cosmic battle to end all battles with Howard in the middle! Can he put an end to THE COLLECTOR once and for all with the help of the Guardians of the Galaxy and Silver Surfer?
• Seriously, I'm asking you. I'm on, like, page 12 of this script and I. Am. Stumped.
32 PGS./Rated T+ ...$3.99

I lost track of this book after the first issue and the onslaught of Secret Wars, but intend to return to it eventually. I really like the fact that its solicitation copy is amusing, which is a good sign as to whether or not the book itself is funny.

Replace "a ride" with money, and that's pretty much every job in customer service, isn't it...?

Who is Tony Stark, really? Since learning that he was adopted as a baby, this question has cast a shadow over Stark's life. Now, it is time to uncover what his legacy truly is, a journey that will carry Tony into new directions as a man and as a super hero. Alongside his strange new quasi-ally Doctor Doom, Iron Man will discover new things about the Marvel Universe he didn't know existed before! A character deconstruction from Bendis and Maleev along the lines of their award-winning DAREDEVIL run!
32 PGS./Rated T+ ...$3.99

Wait, wait, wait...Tony Stark was adopted?! Does that mean Howard Stark wasn't his real father? Because they have the exact same mustache.

• War Machine and Iron Man team up to stop a brand new threat to the Marvel Universe... like only they can. All this plus more hints to next summer's insane Marvel blockbuster event.
32 PGS./Rated T+ ...$3.99

Oh good, there's going to be another Marvel blockbuster event in the near future. I was beginning to worry they might take some time off after Secret Wars, their biggest event in...ever? I think ever, in terms of its overall page-count, length of time it took to tell and disruption of Marvel's publishing line-up. So that's a relief. I just hope that Brian Michael Bendis gets to write it, because that dude is so good at writing Marvel event series. (Um, that was sarcasm, in case you haven't read all of Marvel's event series since House of M or so, which can be neatly divided into two piles: Godawful messes and those that were somewhere between pretty okay and excellent. Bendis is responsible for all of those in the first pile, except for the Mark Millar-written Civil War.)

BECAUSE YOU DEMANDED IT! Now in her own ongoing series!
Bobbi Morse is Mockingbird, S.H.I.E.L.D.'s most versatile, most in-demand agent!
But a string of missions gone wrong indicate that something strange is lurking within S.H.I.E.L.D.'s own medical and recovery network. How far will Mockingbird have to go in order to solve this puzzle box and get to the truth? Bestselling author Chelsea Cain teams with newcomer Kate Niemczyk.
32 PGS./Rated T+ ...$3.99

Now how come Marvel can launch a fucking Mockingbird series, based almost entirely on the fact that the character is part of the ensemble cast of Marvel's least critically-acclaimed TV show, but DC can't publish a fucking Supergirl comic?

In fact, DC canceled their existing (albeit dumb and terrible, but still) Supergirl comic a few months prior to the debut of the Supergirl TV show, whereas Mockingbird hasn't had her own comic in...ever? Is it ever? I know she had a shortlived book with Hawkeye for a while there, but has she ever had a solo series? She was dead for like ten years and no one cared.

A STANDOFF tie-in!
• The New Avengers are a global rescue force – but what happens when they have to rescue someone...
from S.H.I.E.L.D.?
• Answer: THIS MEANS WAR! And the beginning of the three-part conflagration that changes EVERYTHING!
• PLUS! The traitor -- REVEALED! And the twists keep coming! Who -- or WHAT -- is the AMERICAN KAIJU?
32 PGS./Rated T+ ...$3.99

What is American Kaiju? I don't know, an awesome phrase that I'm kinda shocked no one has ever put to use anywhere before.

In the past, if you asked me I'd rather get knocked out by Luke Cage or Iron Fist, I would have chosen Iron Fist, as he knows kung fu, and therefore might have the skills to take me out with, like, a nice, gentle nerve pinch or something, rather than just bludgeoning me with super-strong fists to the face. But seeing the pair's differing styles of hauling guys they've knocked out away, I think I would no pick Cage. His enemy gets a nice, comfortable ride on his big shoulder, while Iron Fist is just dragging his guy down the street.


Does Luke need to go up a few styles in his suit, or is that the style now...?

• In order to confront a new enemy, SCARLET WITCH must journey to a magical realm called the WITCHES ROAD.
• The path is full of dark surprises lurking around every corner -- Wanda must keep her wits about her to survive.
• But will a surprise visit from a long-lost relative make Wanda lose her way?
32 PGS./Rated T+ ...$3.99

Marguerite Sauvage?!?! What she's doing over here in the Marvel solicits, rather than drawing Bombshells or a relaunched Wonder Woman for DC for something? DC didn't let Sauvage go, did they? Because she's one of--if not the--best artists they've got drawing things for them.

I have very little-bordering-on-zero interest in this character, but I think if I were to try an issue, it would be this one.

• Squirrel Girl and Howard will team up against an enemy that neither Squirrel Girl (who has defeated Galactus) or Howard the Duck (who has defeated... uh... well, listen, I'm sure he's got other qualities) could take down on their own!
• Will they fight over a trivial misunderstanding? Will they band together against a common enemy? Will Squirrel Girl say "duck!" to mean "lower your head" but Howard will misinterpret it as a call for his attention, leading him to get hit on the head by something?
• At least ONE of those three questions will be answered with a "yes" in this issue!
32 PGS./Rated T ...$3.99

I wonder how they will collect this...? Will both chapters of each appear in both Squirrel Girl and Howard The Duck trades...? Because I read the former in trade (and it's one of my favorite comics; I know I haven't reviewed it here yet, but Squirrel Girl is the best and you should all read it), and intend to read the latter in trade at some point, too.

X-MEN '92 #1
The X-Men of the 90s are back! Continuing from the hit Secret Wars series starring the X-Men of a more EXTREME decade. With Cassandra Nova defeated, the X-Men have taken in all the young mutants she had rounded up and are officially reopening the Xavier School for Gifted Children...but being responsible won't stop them from having crazy adventures! Especially when Omega Red shows up with the (Formerly) Soviet Super Soldiers!
32 PGS./Rated T ...$3.99

Congratulations to my fellow Comics Alliance contributor Sims on getting a new ongoing monthly out of the book he co-scripted with Bowers as part of Marvel's Secret Wars event. Don't tell him, but I've only read the first issue of the miniseries so far. I thought it was pretty good, though.

Comic Shop Comics: December 16

Batgirl #46 (DC Comics) It's the moment you've all been waiting for! Or, at least, my best friend has been waiting for, so if you're her, than it is definitely the moment you've been waiting for! Stephanie Brown, the pre-Flashpoint Batgirl, and the current Spoiler, migrates from her supporting role in Catwoman to a supporting role in Batgirl. At least for this issue. And another one in March, which looks like it is going to be awesome. Here's the cover for it, in case you've forgotten since I showed it to you yesterday-ish:
Maybe she'll stick around for the issues in-between as well, I don't know. One of the great strengths of Batgirl is it's rather wide supporting cast, with characters who come and go issue-to-issue.

David LaFuente (who would be a pretty okay person to draw the theoretical Birds of Prey comic that I hope the cover for Batgirl #50 is presaging), provides the cover for this issue, and while he's art's not quite as soft and sexy as that of interior artist Babs Tarr, his thicker, bolder lines still encapsulate a similar-enough design style.

So Barbara Gordon and Nadimah are working on their grad school community research project and Babs is complaining about how frazzled she is lately, which leads immediately into a scene of why: She's defending Burnside from street crime by night. During a routine gang beating up, she's interrupted by a man with ties to Gotham's underworld, who recruits Batgirl to get Spoiler out of some hot water. Apparently the events of Catwoman (the last few issues of which I haven't been reading) lead to the Hasigawa crime family putting a hit out on Spoiler. The guy, Lewis, thinks if a Bat-person swoops in to aid Spoiler, it will get the Hasigawa heat off of her.

So Batgirl and new, official partner Frankie (who, once again, mentions she has a codename in mind, and is once again interrupted before she can say what I assume must be "Oracle") go to save Spoiler, who's doing pretty okay against a gang of bad guys, untile their awesome, manga-inspired specialist shows up...luckly Batgirl shows up immediately after, and the girls double-team and take him out.

Batgirl stashes Spoiler in a Gotham penthouse apartment belonging to a wealthy member of the Bat-family that she's been romantically involved with (this time it's current boyfriend Luke Fox, although interestingly Dick Grayson just stashed Spoiler in one of his Gotham penthouse apartments in the pages of Batman & Robin Eternal. That poor Spoiler; always seeing things she shouldn't, and having to hide out from massive Gotham criminal organizations and conspiracies! (I actually wish Grayson would have taken her with him; it's kind of unclear why he decided to just leave her behind with Harper's non-vigilante brother Cullen, but whatevs).

Something bigger is clearly going on, and Spoiler is apparently going to be a part of it's resolution. In fact, it seems to have started in the comic in which the pair first officially met (Batgirl Annual #3, if we're not counting that one splash page in Batman Eternal), as it looks likes someone or something is after Babs' memory of a maguffin she saw during the first chapter of the annual, the Negahedron.

In the mean time, this issue offers a surprisingly great fight scene or two for an American superhero comic, sine cute super-girl bonding and Tarr's always gorgeous designs (like few other artists–Brandon Graham and Sophie Campbell springing most immediately to mind–I just love the way Tarr draws everyday people. Their clothes, their hair, their faces, their bodies–she's a hell of an artist, and one I don't think gets enough credit for being as awesome as she is).

Batman '66 #30 (DC) One couldn't really ask for a better final issue of Batman '66, as cover artist Michael Allred finally–finally!–moves into the interiors to draw the entire issue (something I've been hoping would happen for at least 30 months now, I guess), and he brings other Allreds with him. Mike Allred's art is colored, as always, by Laura Allred, and the script comes courtesy of Lee Allred. Like the final issues of Marvel's FF, this is an all-Allred affair, and it's also, incidentally, pretty great.

The plot finds Gotham seeming bereft of any and all crime, which worries Commissioner Gordon and Chief O'Hara. The reason? Three of Batman's four archenemies–The Joker, Penguin and Catwoman–have organized a criminal convention, having purposely left out their co-conspirator from the original Batman movie, The Riddler, as his riddles always ruin everything.

The cameo-filled convention features just about every villain to appear in the series so far (even if some of those appearances are no more than a cameo), tons of obscure call-backs to the show, and introductions of several Batman or DC villains who didn't ever appear on the show, but could have and maybe should have, given their vintage. Batman and Robin wade in, after first meeting Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and Perry White (next door for a sort of media convention) during a wall-climging gag), fighting all of their villains at once using the rather unique strategy of just punching them all over and over.

The problem is there are so many villains that they'll knock one out, and are still knocking out the others by the time that first one they knocked out wakes back up. All might be lost, were it not for the timely intervention of allies expected (Batgirl, the Gotham Police) and unexpected (I guess I shouldn't spoil it, but you've probably already guessed just from reading these few paragraphs, and will certainly guess while reading the actual comic).

The Allreds are clearly having a blast making this comic, with Lee including all of the most iconic dialogue and gags he can, and Mike drawing all of the most iconic imagery he can. In fact, the narrative structure of the entire issue is essentially based on the opening and closing credits of the TV show, taking the images in the semi-animated opening and essentially finding a story to explain the situation in which those exact images could unfold.

It's a viking funeral of a last issue, although I guess we should use the term "last" with a certain amount of qualification; this will be followed by a Batman '66/Man From U.N.C.L.E. miniseries, and I'm assuming (hoping?) the door will be open for more returns to the milieu in the future. I hope an all-Allred Batgirl special or miniseries might be one of them, given that Allred only gets to draw her in five panels here.

The best panel, however, isn't a Mike Allred-drawing-TV's Batgirl panel, however, it's probably this cameo-filled one:
Aw yeah, Easter Eggs!

Batman & Robin Eternal #11 (DC) The interiors of this issue are in no way reflective of the cool, colorfuly, trippy cover provided by Guillem March (who really should be given an excellent Batman title to illustrate permanent-like, as he's one of the best artists who regularly works for the publisher, but doesn't have an ongoing to stake out as his territory). The interiors feature a well-drawn fframing sequence by Christian Duce, in which Dick Grayson and Harper "Bluebird" Row and new character, the psychic Sculptor do some sort of psychic investigation into Cassandra Cain's origin story, on the way to finding out what Batman's connection to Mother was (obviously, it was a fake out on Batman's part, and if any of the Robins were really actually made-to-order, it would have to be either Jason or Tim, and since Tim's the good one, it would be Tim).

Cassandra's origin is pretty similar here, as her father trains her almost exclusively through actions and violence, so that she never learns to speak, but does learn to read body language well-enough to predict it. And she's eventually used as an assassin, which she doesn't like.

What's different is that Cain is now a dark-haired young man (there can be no gray hair in the New 52!) and he works with Mother as part of her organization; he's the character we met in the first few issues called Orphan. (Cass was a side-project of his.)

Much less silly than the last few issues, and slightly better drawn, it's another okay issues of an okay series, the main selling point of which seems to be giving Batman's many book-less allies a place to show up and do stuff on the regular, and the ones with books of their own to show up and conduct Batman-related business without having to over-involve all their New 52 baggage (i.e. no Teen Titans or Arsenal, minimal Spyral, etc).

Lumberjanes #21 (Boom Studios) Writers Shannon Watters and Kate Leyh and artist Carey Pietsch launch a new story arc with this issue, and it seems to be all about shape-changers. When the girls meet a new, harsher-than-most counselor who will only grant them their All For Knot knot-tying badge if they succeed at knot-tying as a cabin rather than as individuals, they investigate and find that this new counselor, Seafarin' Karen, got her job when she was marooned here, incapable of returning to her boat, as it has been hijacked by Selies.

They've parked it without taunting distance of the shore, and enchanted the water so that Seafarin' Karen can't sail, float or swim back out to it. What's the deal? The girls split up to investigate, one team going to ask the Bear Woman about shape-changing, since she can turn into a bear and all. Also, a werewolf is involved.

It's a pretty great start to a pretty promising new arc, and artist Rosemary Valero-O'Connell offers a particularly beautiful cover for this issue.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

DC's March previews reviewed

This $75, 688-page omnibus of Silver Age comics due out in May is maybe your best best for Supergirl comics in the near future, for some reason.
Next March is going to be a pretty big month for DC Comics, as it will be their 50th month of "The New 52" reboot/relaunch (not counting a skip month here or there). That means that all of the comics that relaunched with new #1s back in September of 2011 will be publishing their 50th issues in March, which, as per tradition in mainstream comics, means big things: The climaxes of several events or storylines, the beginning of new directions by new creative teams and so on.

Of the 52 new monthlies lauched in September 2011, 11 of them will reach #50 in March (Justice League, which took one more month off than some of its peers, will hit #50 in April...and will be the only book other than Batman to have the same writer for that entire time). Considering how often comics tend to renumber with new #1's these days–at Marvel, for example, it was pretty much every time the creative team changed, but now books seem to renumber even more often than that–the fact that a a little more than one-fifth of the line lasted over 50 months is pretty damn impressive.

Most of the books that made it/will make it to their fiftieth issues are in no way surprises: Action Comics, Detective Comics, Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Catwoman, Aquaman, The Flash and Green Arrow. Of those, Green Arrow is the only one I really scratch my head over, as it has had, what, 50 different creative teams so far? And, no matter who was writing and/or drawing it, the book has been pretty consistently terrible. I mean, I read a lot of terrible comics, and there have been few issues of Green Arrow I've been able to force myself to read, from beginning to end. I suppose the argument can be made that an Aquaman book reaching that number over some of the books that didn't is kind of remarkable, although it did launch with Geoff Johns writing, which no doubt helped considerably.

Of note among the variant themes/schemes this month is the fact that DC is continuing to mess around with polybagged variants, an alarming return to an alarming trend from the bad old days of the early '90s, although I'm not sure where the blame actually lies for the return to that trend. I'm pretty sure Image beat DC there, thanks to the "naughty" variants of Sex Criminals. There are also some Batman V. Superman: Genysys of Justyce movie variants, which look like mildly tweaked versions of some of the movie posters, incorporating the logos of the books bearing them.

For a complete list of what DC is planning on publishing in December, you can check out this post on Comics Alliance. Otherwise, stay right here for me-talking-about-stuff...

Written by DAN ABNETT
Art and cover by BRETT BOOTH and NORM RAPMUND
On sale MARCH 30 • 48 pg, FC, $4.99 US • RATED T
Dead Water is a killer and a monster. No matter where you go, he can reach you if there’s even one drop of water present. Pray that Aquaman finds you first! And the most famous oceanic hero on Earth is Aquaman, right? In our gala 50th issue, make way for…Aquawoman!

It looks like Aquaman is getting a new creative team, with Brett Booth as the pencil artist, which...well,  let's just say he's not a favorite of mine (that cover looks pretty okay, though; I think Booth is much better at covers and pin-ups than comics). What's really too bad is that Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez is providing a variant cover, apparently just to make anyone who sees it sad that he's just drawing the variant cover, and not the interior art as well.

Also of note is the fact that Aquaman is apparently going back to his classic look, after a few months of experimenting with a black, sleeve-less shirt for some reason, and the mention of "Aquawoman." Who could this be? The gender-flipped one who played a fairly large role in The Multiversity? The queen of Atlantis seen in the pages of Earth-2? Mera from the pages of DC Comics Bombshells...? Or is that the superhero codename they're going to give the lady on the cover of this issue, Mera...?

I sincerely hope they're not going to start calling the "real" Mera "Aquawoman," if only because she's done just fine going by "Mera" for decades now, and because having "Aquaman and Aquawoman" together seems a little too Hawk for Arthur and Mera...

First off, and less importantly, I just wanted to say that I love when comics covers do these sorts of call-backs to earlier covers, like Kevin Maguire's seemingly endless riffs on that first Justice League cover he did.

Secondly, and more importantly, HOLY SHIT Batgirl is teaming up with Spoiler, Black Canary, Harper "Bluebird" Row and he friend Frankie, who has been Babs' unofficial "oracle" for a few months now?! Could this be the line-up to an all-new, all-awesome Birds of Prey?! Yes, it could be, and, in fact, it should be.


(Just let me know if you guys need help picking out a non-terrible creative team for it. The very busy Brenden Fletcher seems like an ideal writer or co-writer, and David LaFuente would be a swell artist, if you ask me. Which you didn't. But you should, because remember how terrible that last Birds of Prey book you guys tried was? Yuck.)

Art and cover by GREG CAPULLO and DANNY MIKI
Polybagged variant cover by JIM LEE
On sale MARCH 23 • 48 pg, FC, $4.99 US • RATED T
Batman has returned to Gotham City! In this extra-sized conclusion to Snyder and Capullo’s epic story “Superheavy,” Bruce Wayne returns to the cape and cowl to battle Mr. Bloom alongside Jim Gordon for the fate of the city they both love.

Huh. I know Jim Gordon's been Batman since June, which will mean about nine months by the time this sees publication, but so far at least, that doesn't seem like too terribly a long time. It is, after all, only a single story arc in Batman, although I suppose it's well worth remember that between Detective and Batman/Superman and guest-appearances all over the place, there have actually been a lot more Gordon-as-Batman stories than just Snyder's "Superheavy."

The solicit for Detective mentions that it will deal with Gordon's future, which I'm honestly quite curious about, as not only does he need a new job, but she quit smoking, shaved his mustache, got a mohawk and had Lasik done, so, when he gets out of the Batman suit, he's going to look like a completely different person than he was prior to putting it on.

I guess another reason that the return of Bruce Wayne to the role seems so sudden is that Snyder took such pains to show that this was not a simple matter of amnesia, but that Bruce Wayne had somehow basically re-grown an entirely different brain, making it impossible for him to return to Batmanning. I'm eager to see how Snyder writes himself out of that, and hope it's more inspired than Mr. Bloom's-super-seeds-fixing-Wayne or something to do with The Joker's alleged mystical powers (I liked how "Endgame" treated Joker's semi-immortality as a possible joke on his part, so having that aspect of the character confirmed in an unequivocal manner will sort of retroactively spoil an element of the previous storyline).

On sale MARCH 2 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
It’s the catastrophic conclusion of the acclaimed weekly series that brings together all of Batman’s one-time partners! Mother’s trap has been sprung, and the whole world is feeling her wrath! Can Dick Grayson pull together his allies to fight an entire army of foes? Is one among them still under Mother’s control? And what will become of Cassandra Cain? You won’t believe how huge this battle can become!

Here's an other storyline that seems to be concluding a lot earlier than I might have expected. I think I forgot it was going to be shorter than Batman Eternal was, and just assumed it would be a year-long story arc.

I sort of love the cover, with all those sidekicks on it; it's like a nice, deadpan joke about Batman being a loner who doesn't play well with others.

Is it significant that Cassandra Cain is on the cover, even without a mask, but Azrael, who was also re-re-introduced in the course of the series, is not? I assumed the former would take on her Batman Inc-derived Black Bat costume and persona by the end of the series...although I guess it's worth noting that this is not necessarily the cover of the final issue. As with past months, there is only a single paragraph of solicit copy, repeated four times.

Anyway, props to artist Tony Daniel for obscuring the worst of the bad costumes–those of Bluebird, Red Robin and Red Hood–as much as possible while still drawing them on the cover.

Minicomic art by JIM LEE and SCOTT WILLIAMS
On sale MARCH 16
32-pg comic: 6.375” x 10.1875”
16-page minicomic: 5.5” x 8.5”
FC, 4 of 8, $5.99 US
The Master Race will rise. Cities will fall. Bruce Wayne is dead. What will the heroes of the world do to save it?

I can't tell you how bummed I was to discover that Frank Miller would not, in fact, be drawing all of the pages of the mini-comics, but is apparently only drawing the first issue, and then turning the art chores over to high-profile and/or highly talented other artists, reducing his presence even further. His art on the mini-comic portion of the first issue was by far the best part of that entire package. Other than all the Batman-on-a-horse variant covers, of course.

On sale APRIL 27 • 400 pg, FC • $24.99 US
The stories that brought the dread Aliens into the DC Universe are collected in this new title! First, Batman follows the trail from his home turf to the Amazon jungle to discover the horror of the Aliens—but how can even the Dark Knight stop them? Then, an Alien is discovered in a Gotham City construction site—and it’s going to wreak havoc on Arkham Asylum! Plus, the 1998 tale that pitted the WildC.A.T.s against the might of the Aliens is back. Can even the WildC.A.T.s survive a battle with the Aliens—when StormWatch has already fallen?

That is a lot of comics for $25, and an interesting theme for a collection. I suppose a Predator edition will follow...although I think the Batman/Predator comics so outweigh the others that they might just skip including the non-Batman ones (Actually, I think the Superman/Predator crossover is the only one to not include Batman in some capacity).

Or maybe an second volume of DC heroes combatting Aliens-with-a-capital-A will follow, as there's no mention of the Green Lantern crossover, for example, which seems a lot more "DC Comics" than the WildC.A.T.s, who are only DC Comics characters retroactively...

Anyway, check out that list of artists and that price point...this should  be well worth one's time if they have any interest in comics about people in tights fighting the aliens from the Alien/s movies.

On sale APRIL 20 • 536 pg, FC, $34.99 US
Some of the best Elseworlds tales starring the Dark Knight are collected for the first time, including BATMAN: HOLY TERROR #1, BATMAN: DARK ALLEGIANCES #1, BATMAN: DARK JOKER – THE WILD #1, BATMAN: IN DARKEST KNIGHT #1, ROBIN 3000 #1-2 and more.

This is a pretty great idea for a trade, too (and not a bad price point either).  It appears to be all of–well, a lot of, anyway–the Batman-related Elseworlds that were originally published in "prestige format," ones that are too short to justify a trade collection all their own.

That's about as all-star a list of creators as one could hope for, including my two personal favorite Batman artists. Of these, In Darkest Knight (the cover of which is used for the cover of this trade) is the only one I've read, so I'll be very interested in this.

If I recall correctly, the Russell-drawn Robin 3000 should be of some interest as it was originally published in the early '90s when the then-new Robin was something of a hot commodity, and because it was one of the earlier Elseworlds stories to actually be branded as such...and one of the relatively few not to be a Superman or Batman story.

I'm a little surprised that Speeding Bullets, the one that asks what would have happened if The Waynes adopted Kal-El instead of The Kents and thus never had Bruce, as it's such a natural companion to In Darkest Knight (which I'm pretty sure it inspired, if not simply informed). But then, it does say "Vol. 1" in the title, so perhaps that will follow in a second volume.

On sale APRIL 13 • 336 pg, FC, $19.99 US
Writers Grant Morrison and Mark Millar put their distinctive mark on the Scarlet Speedster in this run on THE FLASH from issues #130-141, plus the crossover issues GREEN ARROW #130 and GREEN LANTERN #96! Confined to a wheelchair after a run-in with the mystery villain known only as The Suit, how can The Flash protect Keystone City from evil run amok? Plus, The Flash is forced to represent Earth in an cosmos-spanning race against an alien being called Krakkl!

Woah, woah, woah...was this really not already in print? Is DC really just now publishing a Flash comic by two of the most popular writers working in comics today? Yeesh.

While neither as long nor as beloved as the runs by Mark Waid or Geoff Johns, this is a very good run of Flash comics, with Morrison bringing the Silver Age zaniness to the post-Crisis, de-Silver Aged version of The Flash (Wally West, naturally), and Millar working at or near the height of his creative powers (His Superman Adventures comics are his absolute best, but the superhero writing he was doing for DC around this time was pretty top-notch, and far superior to the Marvel and movie pitch comics that would follow).

Not mentioned in the solicitation copy is the fact that Jesse Quick plays a decent-sized role in this, temporarily taking Flash's spot on the JLA, and there's a fantastic Jay Garrick spotlight issue. And the idea of The Black Flash, which Geoff Johns would mess with during The Flash: Rebirth, is introduced in this. I don't recall the specifics of the "Three of a Kind" crossover event that teamed the modern age Flash with the late Hal Jordan and Oliver Queen's successors Kyle Rayner and Connor Hawke, although I recall not liking it much (despite liking all three of those characters a whole lot).

Variant cover by DOUG MAHNKE
On sale MARCH 2 • 48 pg, FC, $4.99 US • RATED T
Retailers: This issue will ship with two covers. Please see the order form for details.
In this extra-sized issue, it’s a battle for the fate of Earth! Parallax believes Hal Jordan has failed this universe—and now, he’s prepared to wipe Hal out of existence! Hal has to get over the shock that Parallax still exists so he can unleash the power of his gauntlet to stop him! It’s a battle neither Jordan can win, and one that will change both forever.

Awesome. I was so disappointed when DC had Parallax Hal Jordan redeem himself by giving his life to stop the suneater in Final Night; it seemed like such a waste of a character that had the potential to be the DC Universe's most powerful and complex villain. I guess this is going to be the pay-off of the character's re-emergence in Convergence...?
On sale MARCH 9 • 80 pg, FC, $7.99 US • RATED T
It’s four powerhouse tales in one colossal comic, as some of comics’ most legendary talents launch new tales of Firestorm, Metamorpho, Metal Men and Sugar and Spike—that’s right, Sugar and Spike!
Firestorm is back! To save Jason Rausch, Firestorm will need to retrieve Danton Black’s stolen research from Professor Stein’s lab. But if Jason can’t fuse with Ronnie by the Firestorm Protocol…who can?
Written by LEN WEIN
Doctor Will Magnus’ Metal Men may be the next step in robotics technology, but when the mysterious cyber-terrorist known only as Nameless comes after them, they may have met their match!
Metamorpho—a prisoner of millionaire industrialist Simon Stagg! Now, the only person who can save him is Stagg’s beautiful daughter, Sapphire!? But can they defeat Stagg’s prehistoric bodyguard, Java?
The last time we saw Sugar and Spike, they were still in diapers! Now, they’re grown up, and they’ve become private investigators who specialize in cleaning up embarrassing problems for the DCU’s greatest heroes. Sugar & Spike’s first assignment: retrieve a cache of Batman’s retired costumes that have been stolen by Killer Moth!

Huh. DC can get their shit together enough to put together a comic set in the DC Universe but kinda sorta tying in to a TV show based on their characters, but they're just now getting around to maybe kinda sorta almost capitalizing on some of the positive Supergirl buzz from a few months ago when that show debuted. (On the subject of DC's extremely belated Supergirl digital comic, Sterling Gates and Bengal sound like an excellent creative team, but the publishing move makes no sense at all to me. If they're skipping comics, and going right from digital to a trade, that means there still won't actually be anything to give people asking for Supergirl comics for months. And there still won't be a Supergirl comic set in the DC Universe, and thus serving as a gateway to the DC Comics line, which is what I assume the point of having a Supergirl comic when there's a popular Supergirl TV show would be. I never quite understood why DC publishes comics based on TV shows based on their comics,  as they've done with Arrow and The Flash. How hard would it be to do a tonal and costume reboot of New 52 Supergirl, ala Batgirl? Gates and Bengal would be a great team to do just that. Why is DC publishing books starring Black Canary, Starfire and Poisin Ivy, but not Supergirl? It's weird. Weirder still? Your best best for a quality Supergirl comic in early 2016 will be the extremely expensive collection of Supergirl comics from over 50 years ago, Supergirl: The Silver Age Omnibus).

On sale MARCH 16 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T+
In the shadow of an epic war on the Living Mars, DC Comics presents the definitive origin story of J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter—and reveals his terrible destiny!

I think it's cute that they use the term "definitive origin story" for any character in the always-in-flux continuity of the DC Universe, which has had several minor continuity re-jiggering stories since the big New 52-boot, but especially for a character whose origin is so often being tweaked like poor J'onn J'onnz. Maybe we'll get a definitive origin for Donna Troy and Hawkman later in 2016...

Art and cover by DARIO BRIZUELA
On sale MARCH 2 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED E
Sure, The Flash runs faster than anyone on Earth. But Scooby and Shaggy run away faster than anyone on Earth! And it’s no wonder why, when the gang accompanies the Scarlet Speedster to the heart of Africa to come face to snout with that talking, anthropoid apparition—the Ghost of Gorilla City!

"The Ghost of Gorilla City" is one of those terms that I didn't know I ever wanted to hear until I actually heard it.

I'm assuming that this particular Flash will be Wally West–note the Wally eyes on the costume–which probably makes the most sense, as he was the cartoon Flash, and thus the one most likely to team-up with Scooby-Doo and the gang.

As a more light-hearted character than Barry Allen, with a fully-functioning sense of humor and a huge appetite, Wally West is the best Flash to pair with Scooby and company.

On sale APRIL 6 • 280 pg, FC, $19.99 US
The Suicide Squad is back in stories from issues #17-25 and ANNUAL #1! First, the team stumbles into the Meta-Zone, where they encounter Shade, the Changing Man. Then, the Jihad is back—and there are scores to settle! And Captain Boomerang is about to pay for masquerading as Mirror Master!

I'm really excited that they're doing a Suicide Squad movie, if only because it seems to be driving the suddenly urgent collection and publication of the original (i.e. the good) Suicide Squad comics. I wish these were all in print months ago, when people were asking for good Suicide Squad comics...

On sale MARCH 16 • 48 pg, FC, $4.99 US • RATED T
Superman returns in all his glory in this very special issue that sees the Man of Steel back to full power as he faces his greatest enemy and also comes face to face with the pre-Flashpoint Kal-El! At last, it’s the meeting of the Supermen you’ve been waiting for!

Well, I wasn't waiting for that meeting...especially since it's not really the pre-Flashpoint Kal-El, but the pre-Flashpoint Kal-El after he, Lois and their son lived through Convergence, re-jiggered Crisis On Infinite Earths off-panel somehow and then spent six years or so in The New 52-iverse. That Kal-El is more post-Convergence than he is pre-Flashpoint at this point, isn't he?

With his power and costume back, this too seems to be the conclusion of a nine-month status quo change for its hero, and it too seems to be coming awfully suddenly. There's no mention of the biggest change though, Superman's secret identity no longer being secret, so I wonder if that too will be reversed at the same time as his power loss and costume change. That's a much harder genie to shove back in the bottle, especially in a way that doesn't seem like a cheap out.

Okay, there's obviously a lot of stuff in DC's publishing plans to question or criticize, but there is one thing that the publisher is doing exactly, unequivocally right: They are having Kelley Jones draw Swamp Thing. Look at that cover. Look at it!

Jones generally fares much better with monsters and Batmen than he does with the female form, but that's a pretty good Zatanna. Also, how awesome is that Swamp Thing? And the ornate background?

Man, it's nice to be able to end one of these posts on a note of unbridled, unqualified enthusiasm...!