Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Comic Shop Comics: December 2

All-Star Section Eight #6 (DC Comics) Damn, there's Garth Ennis and John McCrea doing what they do so well, completely savaging the entire concept of superhero comic books...from within the pages of a comic book. Which, of course, is also an incredible celebration of superhero comic books. There are seriously a few panels set within the Fortress of Solitude that read like Grant Morrison could have written them in his All-Star Superman.

In this final issue of the series, which I miss already, Superman picks Sixpack up at Noonan's and takes him to the Fortress, as he senses that Sixpack needs to talk. And boy does he. The creeping suspicion that something is wrong, as voiced in the above panels, is finally laid bare before the Man of Steel, and Superman offers Sixpack a pep-talk that is as inspired and inspiring as it is tragic and depressing. Supes says all the right things, and has a few kind gestures, but he also literally hands an alcoholic a bottle of whiskey too, so, you know; I'd say that is the most surprising thing in this crazy-ass miniseries, but then, last issue did have the rapping Phantom Stranger in it, joining forces with Etrigan The Demon at one point to cajole DC into collecting Ennis and McCrea's run on The Demon (and it must have worked, too, as it's solicited for January!).
Because the creators are in wrap-up mode here, nothing is quite as over-the-top as in previous issues, but it's worth noting that Section Eight itself ends up about the same as the last line-up, there's a great off-panel resolution to the saga of Dogwelder II, and Superman, Sixpack and the creators resolve the issue of how much of this series is "real" or not in a very nice, even touching way.

Given how great Ennis has written Superman on at least three occasions now, I really hope DC can get him to write an actual Superman-focused comic book series or original graphic novel or something eventually. And maybe I'm just finally getting used to the New 52 costume, but this was the first of two times this week where I thought an artist actually made the new suit look pretty good.

Also, Ennis entitling this issue "He's Gotta Be Strong And He's Gotta Be Fast And He's Gotta Be Fresh From The Fight" has finally unseated John Rogers' "Total Eclipso: The Heart" from Blue Beetle #16 as the best Bonnie Tyler joke in the title of a story from a DC Comic. Yes, "Total Eclipso" came first and has a pun going for it, but this one is just so long.

Batman & Robin Eternal #9 (DC) Man, sometimes I get the suspicion that plenty of editors and creators working for DC Comics don't read all that many comics published by DC Comics, and it's really rather irritating–I mean, they should have to suffer with the rest of us, right?

This issue concludes with a shocking cliffhanger: The debut of New 52 Azrael! Even though the Michael Lane, legacy version of the character, the one that followed Jean-Paul Valley, already appeared in the climax of Grant Morrison's run on Batman, Incorporated (In Batman Inc #10, Batman borrowed his "Suit of Sorrows" as part of his weird power-up, which also included taking Man-Bat formula).

This issue, scripted by Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly and drawn by Roger Antonio, is a pretty dumb one, the Azrael glitch aside. Save for a four-page sequence between Bruce Wayne and Mother set "several years ago," the rest of the issue features Red Hood (a character I loathe) teaming up with Red Robin (Tim Drake, who I used to love, now mangled by the New 52-boot into another character I loathe), arriving in Santa Prisca, where they team up with Bane to take on the Order of St. Dumas...who have taken over the island country and built a hight-tech crystal Disney palace atop the ruins of the Pena Duro, the prison where Band and his teddy bear spent the formative years of their lives.

None of which seems the tiniest bit logical. I mean, we all draw the line in different places when it comes to the suspension of disbelief in our superhero comics, but man, I didn't buy a single panel of this storyline.

Well, I kinda like the way that Antonio draws Red Hood's stupid helmet/mask, giving it the expression of an Easter Isle sculpture.

Bizarro #6 (DC) The concluding chapter of Heath Corson and Gustavo Duarte's actually came out a while ago, a month ago, I think, but my shop had sold out of it at the time, and the re-orders just arrived this week.

It is very good, and it's a very specific kind of very good, the kind that makes all of the preceding parts of the story better in retrospect, as it so thoroughly ties everything together in a satisfying resolution. Virtually ever character to appear earlier in the series reappears in this issue, or at least all of the heroes do, in order to help Bizarro save Jimmy from the clutches of the enemies they made in the first issue.

"We no call ourselves The Bizarro League!" Bizarro declares on a splash page (above), while flanked by the likes of Deadman, Zatana, Chastity Hex, Kilowog's cousin and others. "Nope," Jimmy Olsen over rules him, "We're not doing that."

Well, are they at least doing more Bizarro? I certainly hope so. As I've said before, Corson has a great handle on the character (and on Jimmy too, really), one that finds the sweet, endearing, funny aspects of his traditional backwards-ness, but also continually puts new spins on it. Superman also guest-stars, and at greater length than in his previous brief appearance (special guest-artist Tim Sale draws Superman's first appearance in the narrative, marking the other example I saw this week of someone really making that New 52 Superman costume look not so bad).

The end of the book opens with what sounds like a premise for another miniseries ("Terrible Mister Kent am no get me internship at Daily Planet"), but, as an editorial box indicates, there likely haven't been any decisions made on future Bizarro miniseries. When the boys arrive back in Metropolis, the narration box indicating their whereabouts reads "3,033 Miles (and a whole other miniseries*) Later...", an editorial box in the corner responds "Yeah>? Let's see how the trade sells. –The Co-Publisher"

I hope the sales are terrible. I mean, fantastic. I mean...whatever would get us more of Corson and Duarte's (and guests) Bizarro.

Gotham Academy #12 (DC) Hey, know what I just realized? I think the thing that often makes this book seem a little off to me is the fact that it stars Olive Silverlock, and not any of the other characters in "Detective Club," all of whom are more interesting, and all of whom are free of the weird, confusing "Calamity" plot, which just gets more confusing the longer it goes on. Like, I thought she was just a firestarter supervillain whose secret identity was Olive's mom, but it turns out she's something much weirder and more different. I kinda just prefer teenagers solving mysteries, myself.

Great art as always, and I'm assuming it is still mostly by Karl Kerschl, but I can't tell for sure, since DC seems to have forgotten to print credits inside this issue, for some reason.

Paper Girls #3 (Image Comics) In retrospect, I'm beginning to think that maybe it would be better if the pterosaurs in this comic looked like the pterosaurs of pop culture from the 1980s, when this is set, rather than the pterosaurs of our current understanding.

On the other hand, time travel seems to at least be an element of this story, which, as of this issue, includes a second group of aliens, this one talking in some sort of hybrid, text-derived slanguage.

The series is just getting weirder and weirder with each issue. I honestly have no idea what's going on at this point, and where it's headed. But Cliff Chiang sure draws well. And it has pterosaurs in it. So my needs are being met.

Robin War #1 (DC) A second big, city-wide, crisis requiring the attention of all of Batman's former sidekicks occurring at the exact same time as weekly series Batman & Robin Eternal seems like it may be a little much. On the other hand, like the weekly, Robin War could only really take place at this particular moment in time, when Batman is off the board. And since the "real" Batman being off the board is a very temporary change in the status quo, DC's got to do these sorts of Batman-less stories while they can.

The premise for this story, which kicks off in this issue and concludes in Robin War #2, with four chapters and three tie-ins in-between, is predicated on Batman's "death" during "Endgame." That's what gave rise to both The Robins (from We Are Robin) and the new, police-sanctioned, anti-vigilante Batman (former-Commissioner Gordon in a dumb-looking robot suit).

The flourishing of the Robin movement in Gotham City is something that the old Batman would quash immediately, of course, and I was actually kind of surprised none of the old Robins (Dick Grayson, Jason Todd or Tim Drake), the current Robin (Damian Wayne) or other Bat-people haven't moved to stop them yet. In fact, the Bat-family has been remarkably cool with a bunch of amateur teenagers deciding to call themselves Robin and fight street crime in Gotham: Batgirl met a Robin in the awesome-looking We Are Robin #4, Batgirl and Grayson met Duke's "cell" of Robins in Batman & Robin Eternal and Tim met Maps in Gotham Academy #11 and just assumed she was part of the movement too.

So, what's different now? Well, for starters, writer Tim King (not Lee Bermejo, writer of We Are Robin? ) has an amateur Robin screw-up while trying to foil a robbery, leading to the deaths of both a policeman and a robber (Did it strike anyone else as odd that the policeman shot the robber in the arm, rather than killing him? Because the use of lethal force by police officers has unfortunately been such a big story for so long of late, I've heard over and over that police don't really get the chance to try and shoot to wound like in the movies, but if they fire on someone, it is generally to kill them).

That leads to a city-wide crackdown on the Robins, which even includes Robin profiling (there's a pretty neat scene where Duke is stopped by a police officer and arrested not for being a young black man, but for wearing red).

The other wrinkle is that Damian Wayne returns to Gotham, and immediately starts a fight with what is described as hundreds of Robins.

Further complicating things is that the anti-Robin laws aren't simply being enacted for the common good, but because one of the members of Gotham City Council pushing for them is trying to get in good with The Court of Owls, who are apparently still around and still want Dick Grayson for some owlish reason or another.
So it's Robins Vs. Owls, I guess!

King does a pretty okay job of introducing the players, with captions and a few fun facts about each (see this Comics Alliance article by a very handsome writer, if you need more info on any of the players, though), and writes all of the characters in-character, which is harder than it used to be, given how many pieces are moving constantly now.

The highlight was probably Damian's interactions with, um, everyone else. He is the only member of the Bat-family to not appear in Batman & Robin Eternal yet, so he hasn't been sharing panel-time with the other Robins on a weekly basis. (He was given his own book and an international mission, apparently to keep him out of Gotham during the events of the Scott Snyder's current Batman story arc, "Superheavy," in which Gordon has replaced the amnesiac Bruce Wayne.) So we get to see his reaction to the Robin movement, his first meeting with Duke Thomas (a one-time popular candidate for Robin V, during the time in which Damian was dead) and his first meeting with the new Batman:
At 38 pages, this oversized book took four different art teams (and four different colorists!) to draw, which is a lot of people, and makes it seem like this book was put together much closer to deadline than it likely should have been. I'm not familiar with all of the artists, but none of them are at all bad. Khary Randolph, who draws 11 pages, probably did the best job, and his style looked the most "right," as he had previous drawn We Are Robin. In general though, even with so many artists on so few pages, it looks much better and more finished than the other Robin team-up book of the moment, Batman & Robin Eternal.

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