Friday, July 29, 2016

Marvel's October previews reviewed

Marvel's turn:

Hey, look! It's Hayley Atwell's Agent Peggy Carter, as drawn by Marcos Martin! With James D'Arcy's Edwin Jarvis and Dominic Cooper's Howard Stark in the background. This is, sadly, not the cover of a comic book, but some dumb-sounding guide to the Marvel Cinematic Universe thingee (Actually, the official title is apparently Guidebook To The Marvel Cinematic Universe—Marvel's Agents of SHIELD Season Two/Marvel's Agent Carter Season One #1), part of a series of which I have never actually seen in the wild. Are they just like old Official Handbook comics, or something?

Anyway, I don't have anything to say about this, other than "Hey, look!" I'm pretty bummed there's not going to be a season three of that show, but I hold out hope that Marvel is eventually going to devote at least a movie or three to the founding of SHIELD, which seems to be the foundation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which would of course mean a big, juicy, starring role for Atwell.

(I'm also totally okay with an Invaders movie or a Secret Avengers movie starring Atwell and the first Ant-Man and Wasp during the Cold War.)

WOLVERINE: MURDERER!!! Laura has fought so hard to be something other than what she was created to be, but the fight is over. Wolverine has blood on her hands. In the wake of an unspeakable tragedy, dark forces have Laura’s life under their control. Will Laura be able to defeat demons on the outside and from within? Or will she be forced to give up the hero’s life she’s built for herself?
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Hmm. So, this is a sequel to a 2004-2005 Wolverine story arc by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr., in which an alliance of nefarious organizations essentially reprogram Wolverine into an ultimate killing machine and set him loose on the rest of the Marvel Universe, so that he fights and takes down the Fantastic Four, The X-Men, Daredevil and so on. Of course, he doesn't actually kill any of them--maybe Northstar, temporarily--so it was basically just a big, dumb fight comic which allowed Millar to put in silly Hollywood moments (Wolverine fights a great white shark!) and JRJR to draw everyone.

"Enemy of The State II" will have a different writer, a different artist and a different lead character so, I'm not sure how direct a sequel it can really be. Sounds more like a Road House 2 or Kindergarten Cop 2 than, say, The Godfather Part II or The Empire Strikes Back.What? Yes, of course those movies are real movies. I would not, hell I could not make up Road House 2 or Kindergarten Cop 2.

CAGE! #1 (of 4)
From the Award-Winning creator of Dexter’s Laboratory, Samurai Jack and Hotel Transylvania! On the mean streets of Harlem, shoes are big, shirts are large, bottoms are belled and crime is rampant! But in the heart of the city, the world’s hardest-working, smack-talking, chain-wearing super hero is on the street and on the case! And his rates are reasonable! He’s CAGE! and he’ll save your behind. Dig it!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Well it's about damn time. It's been so long since Marvel first announced this series that I had actually completely forgotten about it until the solicitation surfaced. I suppose we have the imminent arrival of a Luke Cage TV show on Netflix to thank for this book finally seeing release, which is actually pretty weird when you think about it. Like it really shouldn't take something like a mass-media adaptation to get a publisher to release a comic book written and drawn by a creator of Tarakovsky's stature, especially considering what a name he is in mass media (They don't mention it, but in addition to the TV shows and feature film name-dropped in the solicit copy, Tartakovsky is also the guy responsible for the best Star Wars film-making ever.

I do find it slightly curious that they are choosing to go ahead and release it serially as a four-issue miniseries instead of as an original graphic novel, since I imagine anyone eagerly awaiting this series as I once was can stand to wait an extra four months for the trade at this point, but then, I don't really understand the economic decisions that go into what gets published in what format, and I'm assuming Marvel has people that do.

The world has received an ULTIMATUM: Peace in our time...or face the fury of The Flag-Smasher! Amid cries of “#TakeBacktheShield”, Sam Wilson stands against a rising tide. But he is not alone! Guest-starring in this issue – Steve Rogers: Captain America! Only, Steve has a secret…
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99

I'm not going to lie--I love Flag-Smasher.

That is the Champions variant cover by Mike Deodato, which has a few of the new champions and a few of the old Champions. It is suspiciously Captain America-free though, for the cover of a Captain America comic.

I really don't like the way Deodato draws Kamala on this cover.

Cover by Paul Renaud
• With the Marvel Universe at war, Steve fights for peace.
• Guest-starring Captain Marvel!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

"Prostate Awareness Variant Cover" is something I never, ever expected to see in the solicitation copy for one of The Big Two comics publishers, but, well, there it is. Does the fact that such a thing exists say something about the aging demographics of the direct market, super-comics readership?

I am assuming the above image is Javier Pina's regular cover, as nothing about the image really says anything about prostrate awareness to me, but then, I can't imagine what such a cover would look like (Wait, that's not true. I am imagining it right now. It involves Dr. Strange, Night Nurse and Steve Rogers).

Following the fallout of CIVIL WAR II, Avengers Ms. Marvel, Nova and Spider-Man strike out on their own — joined by Cyclops, Viv Vision and the Totally Awesome Hulk! Six young heroes determined to change the world — and they’re only the beginning!
48 PGS./Rated T …$4.99

So I guess that Marvel found a way around whatever it was that was stopping them from using the team name "Champions" as the title of one of their books some years ago, back when the Matt Fraction/Kitson comic The Order was named The Order late in the development process, rather than The Champions.

That's great, as it means we're one step closer to a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie starring the best team that is not The Defenders, whose name is being appropriated by The Marvel Knights of Netflix.

I think the top of the covers of this particular comic book is a pretty weird place for that title to appear, however, as it appears to be the junior members of the current "All-New, All-Different Avengers" teaming up with other teen heroes. So I guess the most obvious title for a new book starring these young Avengers and their fellow young heroes might be, oh, "Young Avengers," which, like "Champions," isn't currently being used. But given that the young Avengers are burning their Avengers membership cards on the cover, I have to imagine there's a story reason why they aren't calling themselves "Young Avengers," or why they're no longer on the Avengers team.

When fate calls, a sensational super-team answers! The avenging Angel! Hercules, Prince of Power! The deadly Black Widow! Ghost Rider, Spirit of Vengeance! And the amazing Iceman! When the Champions come together, it is legendary! So much so they’ll face the mythological might of Cerberus, harpies, Amazons and Greek gods — all culminating in a wedding-stopping assault on Olympus! This mixed-up band might just be the heroes Los Angeles needs. And with the best headquarters Warren Worthington III’s money can buy, and Darkstar added to the ranks, they’ll be ready for the most uncanny of evils — like Swarm, Nazi scientist turned lord of killer bees! Only one group can stop the City of Angels from feeling his sting. They are the Champions — and they’ll keep on fighting ‘til the end! Collecting CHAMPIONS #1-3 and #14-15.
96 PGS./Rated T …$7.99

Highest possible recommendation! While certainly not the best way to experience this title, what with the five issues being split between the first three and then the fourteenth and fifteenth, that's a great price point at which to sample the title featuring a Marvel superhero team so ad hoc and random it makes The Defenders look like The Fantastic Four.

Oh, and while "Nazi scientist turned lord of killer bees" sounds pretty cool, I've found the best way to describe Swarm to be "a Nazi scientist made out of bees."

I like The Jackal's new look, as seen here on the cover of The Clone Conspiracy as drawn by Jim Cheung (I think). It's much better than his previous look, which wasn't particularly Jackal-y.

Shakespeare VARIANT cover by MIKE MAYHEW
You can’t keep a good Madcap down! First, this massively oversized issue brings you the return of Deadpool’s greatest nemesis. He’s back (in the most horrific way possible) and he’s out for revenge! Then, say hello to SHAKESPOOL, THE MERCENARY OF VENICE as Deadpool goes Shakespeare for an all-new 60-page tale by Ian Doescher (William Shakespeare’s Star Wars series). Those old plays you were supposed to read in English class just got a lot more interesting. Don’t say we never taught you anything!
96 PGS./Parental Advisory …$9.99

Huh. Is it juts me, or is a regular issue of an ongoing monthly series a weird place to run a 60-page "back-up" story, written by a moderately popular (in certain circles) author of real books...? Doesn't it seem like Shakespool should be a one-shot, rather than seeing print alongside 20 pages or so of the regular Deadpool monthly, the price of which is jacked all the way up to $9.99 to accommodate all those extra pages...?

Granted I don't really understand the economics of the Big Two within the direct market, especially when it comes to Marvel and even more especially when it comes to Deadpool. This sort of defies logical publishing practices, but it must make some financial sense.

On the other hand, were I a regular reader with Deadpool in my pull, and a $10 issue showed up at random, I would be pretty damn irritated.

That said, "Shakespool" has potential. I only read the first of Doescher's Star Wars books, and while there's only one real joke to them (which is why I didn't read the other, what, five?), his ability to write Shakespeare and translate pop culture into that format and that style was pretty damn impressive. I'd certainly be interested in seeing how it works in comics (the Star Wars books were in the format of plays, obviously), and if Deadpool can be Shakespeare-ized as easily or elegantly as Star Wars.

Gambit: one of the smoothest, best-looking operators in the world of the X-Men. Deadpool: one of the most annoying, ugliest dirtbags in the world of everything. But do you know what they have in common? A secret history of working together to pull con-jobs! That’s right — the grift is on as the Regeneratin’ Degenerate and the Ragin’ Cajun begrudgingly take on one last scam together. Swindling an object of mythical power out from under a Chinese businessman sounds easy, right? Spoiler: It doesn’t go according to plan. Can Wade and Remy talk their way out of this one? Or maybe fight their way out? Would you believe cook? Plus: Who or what is the Scrambler? The pen may be mightier than the sword — now find out whether the playing card is mightier than the katana! Collecting DEADPOOL V GAMBIT #1-5.
112 PGS./Parental Advisory …$16.99

The sub-title made me laugh.

Cover by Rafael Albuquerque
An ancient evil threatens to unravel the fabric of reality, and one Sorcerer Supreme may not be enough. Doctor Strange must unite past, present and future Sorcerers Supremes to stem the coming darkness – Merlin, the Ancient One, Wiccan, and more! But Strange should watch his back, not all of these Sorcerers have his best interests in mind…
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

What's this? A second Doctor Strange ongoing? I know there's a movie coming out and all, but given the difficulty in keeping one Doctor Strange book going in today's market, that seems a little...optimistic on Marvel's part. It reminds me of when DC launched Aquaman and The Others a few years back, which might as well have been published with a blurb reading "Guess How Many Issues Until Cancellation!" on the cover of the first issue.

Of course, the speed with which Marvel reboots and relaunches these days, this could very well be meant to only last six to twelve issues anyway...

(Is "Sorcerers Supremes" really the plural of Sorcerer Supreme...?)

There is a new Iron Man in town and his name is VICTOR VON DOOM. The greatest villain of the Marvel Universe will try something new. Where Tony Stark failed, Doom will succeed. What is Doom’s Master Plan?
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Hmm. I know Doom has been appearing in Bendis' Iron Man book, but this still seems sort of surprising, particularly because Marvel has already done a handful of bad guys-being-good guys books, and even did something similar recently, with the "inverted" Tony Stark in Superior Iron Man. That and, armor aside, Doom's archenemy isn't Stark but Reed Richards.

I know Reed's MIA at the moment, but isn't trying to be better than Tony Stark setting his sites a little low...?

She is back after a decade! A lot has changed in the Marvel Universe and there are still many secrets hiding in the shadows. Secrets only a special woman like Jessica Jones can hope to uncover. Discover the haunting secrets from Jessica’s past in this blistering new series. Alias Investigations is open for business.

Great timing guys, launching a new Alias Jessica Jones months after the popular, acclaimed TV series based on the comic debuted on Netflix, and years before a second season could debut.

Of course, the trade collections were all re-published when Jessica Jones hit Netflix, so I suppose the plan is to get a few more trade collections worth of Jessica Jones comics ready for whenever a season two is released.

I just hope Bendis doesn't feel the need to do anything horrible to Jessica in order to get her back to a place where doing a series makes sense for him again like, I don't know, killing off her child or anything like that.

Professional basketball player and world renowned celebrity, Morris Sackett, gains extraordinary abilities, at the grave cost of his own mortal body. Imbued with the ability to jump from person to person like a ghost, he controls the bodies and memories of those he inhabits. With his own body destroyed, the one-time superstar athlete must rely on others to survive. The saga of the newest Marvel Inhuman MOSAIC begins here!
40 PGS./Rated T+ …$4.99

So the newest Marvel Inhuman is DC's Deadman then...?

Even a super hero’s life can get boring. Double-check your gear. Patrol the city. Save the innocent. Report back to your boss, The Jackal. Wait, what? Why is Prowler working for The Jackal? What does the resurrected Madame Web have to do with him? And what has Prowler already done that may have compromised him?!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Oh wow, they managed to make The Prowler's already fairly terrible costume even worse...? Impressive!

And The Prowler better be working for a villain, if not a villain himself, because purple and green are villain colors. Everyone knows that.

I like this cover.

The “One Man War on Terror” will get the job done! That’s right — James Bourne, A.K.A. Solo, is on his own, right where he belongs! Deadly alien weapons are making their way into the hands of ordinary thugs – and Solo is going undercover to locate the source. Things are heating up, and Solo might just wish he had some backup! Deadpool was just the beginning. You haven’t seen anything till you’ve met Solo!
32 PGS./Parental Advisory …$3.99

Say, Solo's real name is James Bourne? I wonder if this book might not sell better under the title Bourne, given the popularity of those movies then...?

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Comic Shop Comics: July 27th

Archie #10 (Archie Comics) Archie and Veronica stumble into the middle of a campaign controversy, as Hiram Lodge's opponent in the upcoming Riverdale election just so happens to be a rather popular teacher at Riverdale High...and, more saliently, Betty's uncle. Writer Mark Waid devotes much of the issue to the setting up and then unspooling of the problem, which naturally Archie Andrews can't help but make worse and worse the more he tries to fix it. It's not all fun and games, of course. As the book reaches its climax, Waid does a pretty remarkable job of making Archie's clumsiness, generally played for laughs, look like a deep-seated character flaw and a source of angst for the character, and includes a big moment wherein Archie tells Betty exactly what he likes so much about Veronica...which is that her great strength is Betty's one weakness.

It's kids' stuff, sure, but man, it's pretty emotionally powerful kids' stuff.

Artist Veronica Fish continues to do her regular outstanding job with the new Archie designs, her style occupying a perfect sweet spot from which she and Waid can lean in the direction of comedy or drama without the book appearing to strain visually.

The "Classic Archie" back-up is a six-page gag comic from 1964 that highlights the work of writer Frank Doyle, and is illustrated by Harry Lucey and Martin Epp. It's particularly well chosen for this issue, given the way Betty and Veronica feature in it, although the central joke is very much a 1964 joke rather than a 2016 one. That aside, wow, check out Lucey and Epp's line-work, and the dynamic sense of animation they bring to the action.

I don't know how effective all of these classic strip reprints are in terms of introducing modern readers to the work of the old masters, but I know that I personally am noticing greater and greater differences between the work of particular artists, whose work I think we all sort of lump together into an Archie house style because we don't read them that closely. I'm glad this book, and the rest of the new line, are doing these then, as it's nice to have a smart guy like Mark Waid or Chip Zdarsky introduce a particular artist and then get a small, distinct sample of that artist's work to compare and contrast with that of all the others practicing that "house style."

Batgirl #1 (DC Comics) After how great the previous creative team of Cameron Stewart, Brenden K. Fletcher and Babs Tarr's run on the second half of the previous volume of Batgirl was, how luke-warm I was on the new team of Hope Larson (whose older work I've enjoyed, but whom I've only encountered as a writer/artist doing her own thing, not a writer of super-comics) and Rafael Albuquerque (a great artist, but not one with a style I personally found as exciting, unique and as much of a break with the rest of DC's line as I did Tarr), and how confusingly poor last week's Batgirl And The Birds of Prey: Rebirth #1 was (scroll down for a pair of reviews), my expectations for this issue were set pretty low.

It did manage to surpass them though.

Perhaps wisely, Larson takes Barbara Gordon out of Burnside, and Gotham City altogether. The rationale proffered in the last issues of the previous volume seemed a little weak, but, here in the real world, it does allow Larson and Albuquerque a way to avoid direct comparisons with the previous creative team. If Babs is journeying to Asia to re-find herself, well, it allows the new creative team, and the book itself, to find themselves before plunging back into the more familiar Barbara Gordon milieu of Gotham City (Although it may be worth noting that she is in Gotham in Batgirl and The Birds of Prey, which is set after the first story arc of Batgirl, and she was also there in the first issue of Nightwing, which also shipped this week).

She's gone to Japan, in part to interview 104-year-old former (?) bat-themed crime-fighting vigilante Fruit Bat, given the fact that the average lifespan of a superhero is 40 (Actually, I don't know how many superheroes have actually died in the post-Flashpoint DCU yet...and, of course, stayed dead. Damian died at 10, so if the average is 40, then that means someone really old must have died at some point too, but since there's only been a single generation of superheroes now, at least not that Barbara would know of, since DC Universe: Rebirth intimated the existence of the Justice Society's heroes. Batman and Jason Todd both died young, and came back to life. So maybe they, like Damian, don't count, since they didn't stay dead. Superman's dead, but he was also pretty young, somewhere in his twenties, right? Actually, let's not even think about it, okay?)

Babs gets to see the very old super-lady in action, as she takes on and frightens off a girl in a sailor suit and dumb face-paint (you can see the pair on the cover). She also meets an old friend from Chicago, who is coincidentally staying in the same room at the same hostel she is.

Larson's plotting and script are just fine. Albuquerque's artwork is also just fine. Babs appears a lot less stylish than I'm used to seeing her now, as she's dressed the entire issue as is she were out hiking, and I wasn't crazy with the designs of the new characters (Like, it always strikes me as a little weird when heroes in other cultures or countries dress in traditional or stereotypical costumes; it's not like all American heroes dress like Uncle Sam or cowboys, you know?).

The book does seem to be off to a pretty good start though, and I'm certainly planning on reading #2.

The Demon Vol. 2: The Longest Day (DC) This collects the second half of writer Garth Ennis and artist John McCrea's relatively short run on The Demon, which closed out the title (and immediately preceded their work on Hitman, for which this was a clear warm-up, and even introduced several players, from relatively minor ones to the title character and long-time supporting cast members). As with the previous volume, this one includes some art by someone other than McCrea, as well as introduction from Ennis.

I can't wait to read it. I've only read a handful of the issues in this particular collection (for whatever reasons, issues from the first half of their run were easier to come by via back-issue bin).

I'm glad that DC took the advice offered by impromptu rap duo Etrigan, The Demon and The Phantom Stranger in the pages of All Star Section Eight--
--and did indeed collect them twenty dope issues by Ennis and McCrea

Scooby-Doo Team-Up #17 (DC) Oh, Hawkman. On page three are two dialogue-filled panels of Hawkman, Hawkgirl and an employee of the Midway City Museum that managed to tell their often quite complicated origins swiftly and efficiently. I was impressed that writer Sholly Fisch, maybe the least-appreciated of the great writers DC employs on a monthly basis, was able to boil any Hawkman origin down into so little space, and still have time for a Green Arrow dis.

Of course, this being Hawkman, Fisch returns later for another seven panels further explaining. I actually lost track of the pre-Flashpoint Hawkman's origins (I don't remember the Brightest Day business very well anymore, other than that it was hella violent), but this seems to be the Silver Age Hawkman and Hawkgirl, with the bits about reincarnation from Geoff Johns and Rags Morales' run on the Hawkman title in which the pair were various heroes throughout DC history, grafted on.

Even still, that's a pretty smooth, efficient introduction to the characters' complicated origins (which always get further complicated the more writers try to "fix" them and, of course, whenever DC tries to "fix" it's whole continuity with history-altering reboots and rejiggerings). Not to mention a nice introduction to the characters and their general premise. I'm not sure if Scooby-Doo Team-Up actually functions this way, I'm not sure if it's supposed to function this way, but at least with the secondary DC superhero team-ups, it certainly introduces Scooby-Doo readers to characters that young readers could graduate to reading more about...eventually, of course, when they're old enough to be able to find, understand and/or stomach the "Rated T For Teen" adventures of many of these characters.

So there's a mystery at the Midway museum, and since the curators Carter and Shiera Hall aren't around, Midway museum's Mavis decides to call in Mystery, Inc. The Hawks arrive mid-investigation, and when the supposedly dead alchemist seeking to reclaim his notebook from a display case is unmasked, he turns out to be–spoiler alert–a trio of Hawkman villains sharing a disguise.

Scooby's clumsiness, Fred's bravery and the Hawks' wings and quick-thinking are all it takes to subdue the trio, and nobody gets brained with one of the maces the pair are toting around.

Even though Shaggy should probably at least have been threatened with a mace in the last panel, in which Shaggy improbably cracks everyone up by saying "As far as I'm concerned, fighting spooky super-villains-- --is strictly for the birds!."

Wonder Woman #3 (DC) And now we jump back to the Liam Sharp-drawn, modern-day Wonder Woman story, "The Lies." I know it's still early days here, but honestly I think the alternating issues telling different stories set in different eras and drawn by different artists is working pretty well so far. It certainly helps that the book now ships bi-weekly–I can't imagine this working were it on a monthly schedule–and I'm curious to see if writer Greg Rucka and DC can keep this up after the initial story arcs, which of course are easily delineated from one another (The Nicola Scott-drawn "Year One" is an origin story, while "The Lies" is set in present day).

Essentially, DC is publishing two different Wonder Woman books both written by Greg Rucka, but they are doing so in a way that doesn't impact sales the way it would have had they actually published them under different titles (The perceived "secondary" titles generally sell worse than the perceived main one; so, for example, if they were also publishing a Wonder Woman: Year One miniseries, it would likely be selling worse than Wonder Woman).

So Wondy continues to try and convince her friend-turned-supervillain Barbara Minerva to help her, while Steve Trevor and his team of soldiers pursue an African warlord. It turns out, unsurprisingly, that the threats are related: The deity that turned Minerva into The Cheetah is also the patron god of the warlord.

Sharp's artwork continues to be amazing. It's highly detailed and precisely inked, and the jungle settings as well as the style reminded me of Alan Moore-era Swamp Thing comics, only with the production values of today, of course. I wasn't overly crazy about Sharp's Cheetah design, but he does this great bit of "acting" with the character where her face, body and hair slide along a spectrum of calm and bestial, so that she practically transforms when she makes an "angry big cat" face and her hair bristles.

There's a rather weird scene where Wonder Woman essentially physically restrains and loves Cheetah into submission, while the latter rants and raves about the need for human flesh like it was a heroin addiction, that is in keeping with Wonder Woman's tradition of loving enemies to convert them into allies as well as having a bit of bondage or domination/submission involved, but she does so without a magic rope, just her body, most of which is off-panel during the page and a half or so in which the pair roll around on the jungle floor together, and the panel just focuses on their heads and shoulders.

It's awfully damn weird to have a readable, in-continuity Wonder Woman comic book again after so long, let alone one that looks as good as this one does. I'm still not entirely sold on the "Year One" arc that will run in between the Sharp issues (It's the one with all the stiff competition, and we've only seen a single issue of it so far), but two and a half issues into "The Lies," I am rather enjoying its half of Wonder Woman.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Afterbirth: DC's "Rebirth" initiative, week eight

Batgirl and The Birds of Prey: Rebirth #1 by Julie Benson, Shawna Benson, Claire Roe and Allen Passalaqua

The most bizarre aspect of DC's current "Rebirth" re-branding effort was the not-terribly-coded admission by writer (and company Chief Creative Officer) Geoff Johns in DC Universe: Rebirth that the four-and-a-half-year New 52 was a failure, and that it was essentially all Alan Moore's fault. Characters from his 1986-87 Watchmen comic, which DC recently produced a suite of prequels to over the vociferous objections of the Moore, were presented as villains in the storyline, and at least one of them as the true in-story engineer of the New 52  (A more generous-to-Johns reading is that rather than my oversimplified, half-serious analysis, what Johns was attempting was some sort of mea culpa on behalf of his publisher, saying that they've collectively learned the wrong lessons from Moore's Watchmen, but, given their exploitation of that material lately, if that was Johns' point, it doesn't seem all that sincerely made).

DC has had a weird obsession with the work of Moore pretty much ever since 1987, relying on his creations and concepts to an often comical degree, while, in more recent, post-Paul Levitz years, seemingly never missing a chance to refer to some minor point of his work or un-do an innovation of his. But while the company has labored to turn the complete, standlone work of Watchmen into some sort of franchise, or to restore Swamp Thing to his Len Wein-conception rather than the more popular Moore version and so on, the company really, really loves the fucking Killing Joke (Moore's one-off, out-of-continuity 1988 prestige format collaboration with artist Brian Bolland), which has become the one, single story in the company's 75-years worth of stories that was explicitly not knocked out of continuity during the events of Flashpoint...despite the publisher's reversal of one of Killing Joke's single lasting impact on DC continuity (Barbara Gordon's irreparable paralaysis).

When the most recent Batgirl writing team of Cameron Stewart and Brenden K. Fletcher took some pains to try to un-do aspects of The Killing Joke, rather subtly implying that the sexual abuse of Gordon that followed her shooting was simply a false memory planted in her brain to torture her by a villain who had seized control of her memory, it seemed like they had infused enough equivocation that at least the most unsavory aspects of Barbara Gordon's role in that story that readers could see it either way they wanted.

So in the first appearance of Batgirl Barbara Gordon in the "reborn" DC Universe (which, unlike The New 52 did not come about due to any kind of continuity-shifting cosmic event, but is at this point just a branding initaitive), new-to-DC writers Julie and Shawna Benson recap Barbara Gordon's origin and, of course, a chunk of it is devoted to the events of The Killing Joke:
The events are slightly different in several ways from the 1988 original, of course, as they were following Flashpoint (Originally, an older Gordon had retired from crime-fighting at that point, her father was much older and grayer, it happened earlier in the respective careers of all of the characters involved, etc). There are still more differences here, including Barbara's outfit and the presence of marshmallows in her hot cocoa, but as for the sexual assault component? Well, this comic doesn't go any further into the events of Killing Joke than the above panels, and Barbara's narration, but it's strange to see the scene repeated here, as its importance in the Barbara Gordon story is, after the events of Flashpoint, not too terribly relevant. Rather than a turning point in her life, it was–or, at least until this weird issue anyway–something that benched her temporarily from her career as Batgirl until she got better. Not unlike Jason Todd's death at the hands of The Joker.

Except the Bensons actually do a pretty hard reboot of the story of Barbara Gordon and The Birds of Prey in this issue, restoring aspects of the post-Crisis, pre-Flashpoint continuity. Now Barbara Gordon was super-hacking crime-fighter Oracle during the time she was in a wheel chair, she did work with Black Canary as her field agent and they were called The Birds of Prey...contrary to what you may have read in the post-Flashpoint Batgirl and Birds of Prey, two of the books one would expect to be most relevant to a new book called Batgirl and The Birds of Prey (Instead, Black Canary and Grayson are much more relevant than the previous, third volume of Birds of Prey).

This drastic change in the history of these characters–which, remember, is only five to seven years their time and just under five years our time–would make sense if DC Universe: Rebirth did include one of DC's now regular continuity reboots, but it didn't; rather, it just alluded to the fact that the last one was an orchestrated attack to weaken the DCU.

But wait, there's more! We haven't even gotten to The Huntress yet! The post-Flashpoint Huntress is pretty complicated. As far as I understand it, she was introduced as Helena Bertinelli in a six-issue, 2011 miniseries called The Huntress...but it was later revealed that she was really Helena Wayne from Earth 2 (the first Earth 2 of The New 52, the one seen in the pages of the first Earth 2 comic), who had come to Earth-0/The New 52-iverse and assumed the identity of the late Bertinelli and the new superhero codename to hide the fact that she was really ane extra-dimensional alien named Helena Wayne who had operated as her world's  Robin alongside her father, Earth 2's Batman). Then DC introduced a new, second character named Helena Bertinelli who didn't look anything like the previous two Helenas in the pages of Grayson. She was an agent of Spyral, not a costumed vigilante. But here in this issue she adopts a new codename and costume, and is revealed to have a similar back-story to that of the pre-Flashopint Bertinelli.


So now that we've gotten through all that ridiculous continuity bullshit in this issue presumably meant to be a good jumping-on point–"What the hell is a matron of Spyral?" Meredith texted me while she was reading it–we can address the important question. That is, how is it, as a comic? Well, it's not very good.

I vacillate on how harshly to judge writers new to the comics medium, and the Bensons evidence a common, practically ubiquitous weakness in all writers new to comics, be they professional from the world of television, prose or even film and even, in some cases, longtime comic book artists trying their hand at writing but not drawing a comic: They are way, way too wordy. There is a lot of narration in this book, much of it redundant, and too much of it poor.

The first groan their writing elicited was on page two, after Barbara riffs to herself about the saying "Time heals all wounds" for a while, culminating in "Time in on my side...but time is a terrible sidekick."

The second groan, by the way, came when she made this particular observation, without any trace of irony or awareness that it's a completely core element of The Joker's very conception and portrayal for over 75 years:
Ironic. A guy named The Joker took away our laughs.
Ugh. Yes. That's terribly ironic, Barbara/Bensons. The Joker may dress like a clown, he may call himself "The Joker," but he's actually an evil villain. And that has never, ever occurred to anyone ever before. Very astute.

Their plotting is dependent on the changes they've instituted to continuity. While crime-fighting as Batgirl, Babs discovers that someone code-named "Oracle" is providing intel to criminals. Since she was Oracle now I guess, she decides to re-recuit Black Canary, and they go after the bad guys. But going after the same bad guys in The Huntress, dressed in a pretty cool new costume (seen previously in Nightwing: Rebirth #1), who is intent on murdering various mob types in Gotham City with her artfully designed crossbow.

Barbara and Black Canary are opposed to this course of action–at least that means Babs and Helena aren't actually yelling at each other on the cover over who has dibs on Dick–but more so because they need info from the bad guys, rather than because Punisher-types aren't generally welcome in Batman's Gotham City.

The story will continue in Batgirl and The Birds of Prey #1 (remember, this was Batgirl and The Birds of Prey: Rebirth #1), and it's all set after the first story arc of the new volume of Batgirl, which doesn't even begin until week nine.


The sole bit of good news here is that artist Claire Roe draws really well (That's Yanick Paquette's cover, by the way, not hers). Babs is still in her "Of Burnside" costume, but Canary and Huntress wear their new "Rebirth" costumes. Roe's Barbara doesn't look nearly as fashionable or sexy as Babs Tarr's Barbara when out of her costume, but then Tarr's vision of Burnside and its fashionable twenty-something population was perhaps uniquely fashionable and sexy; she even made temporary fill-in Batman James Gordon look kinda hot...for Jim Gordon, anyway.

These characters may have appeared in more stylishly drawn books before–the post-Simone Batgirl, the short-lived Black Canary–but this is the best-drawn Birds of Prey book in...well, I can't remember the last time a Birds of Prey comic was really well drawn. Sometime during the first volume of the book, I guess, before the "Brightest Day" era relaunch.

Oh, and if one wonders overmuch why there's a Killing Joke scene repeated yet again in this comic, the last page of the comic might offer some indication.

Here's the ad on the inside back cover:
So, corporate synergy? Maybe. If so, the Bensons and DC decided to focus on the shooting, rather than the sexual assault (which may or may not include rape, based on what I've heard of the animated film) and not on the other super-unsavory aspects of the film (Batman's sidekick-with-benefits relationship with Barbara) or even the cooler aspects, like that Barbara Gordon costume being a cooler-looking, more striking and easier-to-draw one than the maybe more practical and "realistic" and cosplayable "Batgirl of Burnside" get-up.

When the book official launches with Batgirl and The Birds of Prey #1 in two weeks, this will be the exact creative team, so this, at least, has given us a pretty good idea of what the book will be like. Perhaps (and, by "perhaps" I mean "hopefully") much of this special involved the Bensons checking off editorially mandated boxes–you know, make sure they get some Killing Joke in there, make it clear than Helena Bertinelli, Age of Spyral is now Huntress, assassin of mob types–and that from here on out things will improve.

If not, well, that Roe sure does draw well.

The Hellblazer: Rebirth #1 by Simon Oliver, Moritat and Andre Szymanowicz

Since DC is rebooting their John Constantine ongoing series yet again, it's probably worth remembering how we got here. Do pay attention to the dates.

Okay, so British, working class wizard John Constantine first appeared in the pages of Swamp Thing, where he was created by Alan Moore (yes, his decades-old work does loom heavy in week eight's "Rebirth" specials), Stephen R. Bissette and John Totleben. He graduated to his own monthly series called Hellblazer in 1988, which was one of the handful of DC Comics to migrate to the new, mature readers imprint Vertigo in 1993. The title lasted an astonishing 300 issues, not seeing cancelation until 2013. At the time, it was the longest-running monthly comic book series to have not been relaunched, renumbered or rebooted.

Sales were modest, but that's a damn impressive feat for any comic book, particularly in the turbulent times in the market Hellblazer ran through.

At the conclusion of the 2010-2011 bi-weekly series Brightest Day, writer Geoff Johns reintroduced Constantine (and Swamp Thing) back into the DC Universe proper, a place they had only ever briefly visited after the formation of Vertigo. The roll-out was a bit messy, but Constantine (and Swamp Thing) received their own books after the company's 2011 "The New 52" initiative.

Constantine's new, New 52, DC Universe book replaced the Vertigo-imprint Hellblazer. In spring of 2013, his new book launched, this one just called Constantine. It lasted just 21 issues.

In spring of 2015, they tried again, launched Constantine: The Hellblazer. This attempt lasted just 13 issues.

And that brings us to The Hellblazer: Rebirth #1, a special one-shot meant to introduces the fourth volume of a John Constantine-starring monthly series, the third in four years. If the trend continues, don't expect this it to last very long.

Ironically, the title has come full-circle now back to that of the original Constantine monthly, Hellblazer (well, now there's a "The" in there, but still). The writer is Simon Oliver, and I hate to say it, but there doesn't seem to be anything terribly new or innovative here; it is rather a full retreat back to Hellblazer territory, save with a slicker, more colorful DCU look to it.

Moritat gives Constantine his original hair and look back after the character's dalliance with a new hairstyle and tighter pants in the last volume of the series. And Oliver sends him back to London, after last volume's time spent in New York City.

In fact, the plot of this entire involves Constantine's efforts to return to London, a task much more difficult to achieve than simply buying an airplane ticket and enduring the various inconveniences of flying on a major airline, since Constantine was apparently banished from London by a demon's curse.

So he has to take on that demon here, and he does so via trickery and ballsiness, essentially playing chicken with the souls of everyone in London.

It's the sort of Constantine move that is, at this point, expected, and it therefore lacks the punch it might have when you first saw him pull something clever on demonic forces (For me, I think it was when Garth Ennis had him sell his soul to three different, opposing demons so that none of them could claim it without having to go to war with the others, essentially granting him a degree of immortality). Or when you saw it for the second, third, eighth or tenth time.

I've read enough comics featuring the character that I'm pretty sure I've read all the comics I need to, at least until someone comes up with something brand new to do with him. There's none of that here, and while much of this feels like a return to the old Vertigo Hellblazer–although without any of the language or nudity in a real mature readers Vertigo comic–seeing as how John is back to looking unshaven and rumpled, he's back in London and long-time supporting cast member Chas is reintroduced, there are a few pages featuring Swamp Thing, Captain Marvel Shazam and a baby-faced Wonder Woman to remind us that this is still a DCU comic book.

Oliver does nod in the direction of Hellblazer as a horror comic, however, at least in two passing references to American politics. In the first, Constantine says that as much as he loved New York, he was eager to get out of the U.S. when "a racist, short-fingered, failed meat salesman began circling the white house...things started tot ake a turn for the strange, even for me."

On the last page, we see Constantine clutching a Midnight Standard tabloid newspaper, the headline reading: "Beauty Pageant Owner Becomes Leader Of The Free World."

It honestly doesn't get much scarier than that.

I apologize if it seems I've given short shrift to artist Moritat in this post. The fact of the matter is, he's one of the best artist DC has who regularly draws interior work for them, and while Constantine Comic 4.0 might not seem like the ideal showcase for his talents–if I were the boss of DC Comics, I might have had him drawing Detective Comics post-"Rebirth"–his ability to balance humor and seriousness serves the book quite well. Constantine may look standard issue, and the demon generic, but Moritat's crowd scenes are a real delight.

As talented an artist as he is, I don't think he's a great enough artist that I would want to read a Constantine comic just because Moritat is draw it, but I'll be damned if his presence isn't a hell of an incentive.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Comic Shop Comics: July 20th

Batgirl and The Birds of Prey: Rebirth #1 (DC Comics) Well this was surprisingly bad, and not just because Batgirl's outgoing creative team got me so excited about the possibility of a Birds of Prey book featuring Batgirl (of Burnside),(Grumpy) Black Canary, Spoiler, Bluebird, Vixen and new Oracle Frankie over the course of their last few arcs. No, the writing was extremely amateurish, which makes a certain amount of sense, since writers Julie and Shawna Benson may be professional TV writers, but this is their first attempt at a comic book script. It's over-narrated and poorly narrated, and the plotting is pretty messy, checking boxes in a way that suggests editors Chris Conroy and Mark Doyle likely had a great deal of input. I definitely got the sense that Benson and Benson had read the previous run on Batgirl and Black Canary and maybe some pre-Flashpoint Birds of Prey, but they seemed fairly unfamiliar with New 52 continuity in general, and it certainly seemed like they both skipped Gail Simone's Batgirl run (for which I would not blame them) and that they may even be unaware that there was a New 52 Birds of Prey series.

This basically does a lot of continuity-screwing-around with, in addition to re-inserting The Killing Joke into Barbara Gordon's origin in no uncertain terms after some pains were taking by the Batgirl creative team to kind of at least make it a bit equivocal (although maybe just the sexual abuse part has been excised? It's worth noting that artist Claire Roe changes Barbara's clothes so there are no buttons for The Joker to unbutton...but then, they also must make some random changes, like putting marshmallows in her hot cocoa, so...), they make it so that Barbara Gordon was Oracle at some point between being shot and getting the use of her legs back and making it so she and Canary were a two-woman Birds of Prey team for a while...all of which is "new" to the current continuity, and pretty damn hard to make work in the short, less-than-five years that must have passed between Justice League #1 and Batgirl #1 (Presumably Batman was around at least a few months before Barbara became Batgirl). There's also some weird business involving turning Helena Bertinelli from Grayson into Huntress II of the New 52 DCU which is...awkward, to say the least.

I'll discuss the book in greater detail later in a few days for the next installment of "Afterbirth," but my first impression is pretty extreme disappointment. Pretty great art, pretty poor but not terrible writing and a premise that is laboriously confusing...although maybe not so much if you haven't read any Batgirl or Birds of Prey comics before...? Although, shouldn't the goal be a book for people who are fans of those characters and people new to them, rather than just the latter, and if it were targeted it at just the latter, then they need not have bothered so much with trying to half-explain who Bertinelli is or name-checking supporting characters from Batgirl or Black Canary.

Betty and Veronica #1 (Archie Comics) This is the third of the comics in Archie's new relaunched and rebooted line, following Mark Waid and Fiona Staples' Archie and Chip Zdarsky and Erica Henderson's Jughead, and it was the most iffy of the three going in, based simply on the creators involved with each (If you want to count Sabrina, I guess this is the fourth, but Sabrina is apparently published on some sort of pagan calendar I don't understand, and was also at one time being sold as part of a new Archie Comics horror line with Afterlife With Archie, a book that has turned into something of an annual).

While Waid, Staples, Zdarsky and Henderson are all reliable talents whose work on monthly comics is easily check-out-able at your local comic book shopw, Betty and Veronica is being both written and drawn by Adam Hughes, whose interior comics work is few and far between (I'm having trouble thinking of anything longer than two pages of his I've seen since JLI) and whose writing is...Wait, I don't think I've ever seen Adam Hughes write a comic before.

What he's best known for are his pin-up style covers of DC-published comics like Wonder Woman and Catwoman, and the amount of cheesecake he often brings to the proceedings made him an interesting, even eyebrow-raising choice for a Betty and Veronica comic. Granted, Archie has been sexualizing these two characters in their pages to various degrees for a good three-quarters of a century or so now, but "sexy teen girls" in 2016 is different than in the 1940s, '60s or '80s...especially since the audience for these comics has shifted from little kids to grown-ups.

I'm happy to say then that I was pleasantly surprised. The cover is the only part that looks exactly like the Adams Hughes we've come to known from his cover work. The interior art, colored by Jose Villarrubia, is gorgeous, if awfully slick and photorealistic at points for my particular tastes, and while it is recognizable the work of Hughes, its shockingly effective cartooning from a guy best known for producing single, static images. Why isn't Hughes doing comic books more often...?

The writing is surprisingly good, too. He likely over-writes large chunks of the book, as there are several pages that have the sorts of long dialogue balloon-chains associated with the work of Brian Michael Bendis, but they are all at least employed appropriately (they're conversations, and the drawings associated with them match them). Hughes also draws attention to them in a weird section, where he does use the girls like pin-ups (something not new to Hughes, of course, but likely new to readers who only know Archie Comics from the last few decades), but I'll get to that in a moment.

As for the plot, in a surprisingly literate and elaborate Starbucks joke, the company has bought out the kids' hang-out, and Pop's is in danger of being closed down permanently. The gang–Archie and Jughead appear throughout the issue, and Moose and Midge through much of the issue–set about making plans to save it, although Veronica seems oddly distant throughout (That said, in current Archie continuity, Veronica is new town, and still just getting to know the rest of the gang).

It's a nice, solid plot that ties into what we know about the characters from the other two books and, perhaps refreshingly, it gives our heroines something to fight about that is not Archie. Hughes' dialogue, which is full of gags, is pretty good too, and I was actually impressed by most of it. The gags don't all land–high schoolers Jughead and Archie making an I Love Lucy reference was dated to me, and I just had my 20-year high school reunion last summer–but Hughes subscribes to what I think of as the Marx Brothers rule of comedy. If all the jokes can't be good, just make a lot of them, as frequently as possible, and the good ones will make up for the bad ones.

The weirdest passage is pages 19 and 20, both of which feature single drawings and a lot of white space, filled with dialogue chains.

On the first, there's a small dog house from which Hot Dog's voice emerges (Hot Dog is the narrator). He tells us that he has eaten the pages, and so Betty and Veronica will instead explain what happened on those pages, "and they've agreed to do so while wearing swimsuits, in case that was the kind of comic you were expecting." And so, on the second, we see Betty and Veronica lying in white space in bathing suits, Betty with a copy of Betty and Veronica open in front of her (and covering her breasts) and explaining what's happening to Veronica, lolling around in a one-piece next to her.

As pin-ups go, it's a fairly chaste image–there's a classic Dan Decarlo one showing Betty in a bikini top on the last page of the book–although I suppose its worth noting that the fact that Hughes draws his high school girls so realistically may prove more troubling to some readers than if they were drawn in the old Archie house style perfected by the likes of DeCarlo.

What's weird about these pages is that while they are funny, I assume that the joke of a dog eating the pages like proverbial homework, or working a pin-up into the body of the comic (and a joke about how wordy it is as well) wasn't for the sake of the joke, but because of deadline pressure. I could be wrong in that assumption, of course, but, well, Hughes doesn't draw comic book stories, and it's possible these 23 pages were too much for him.

I hope that was a one-off hiccup, and doens't presage terrible, Sabrina or Afterlife With like delays in the future, because this was surprisingly good, and man, it's great that there are not one, not two, but three good Archie comics available on a monthly basis now. So far, as more are apparently in the works.

As with Archie and Jughead, there are something like a million covers for this, which always sort of depresses me. I only had two to choose from (Hughes' and Zdarksy's, and I chose the latter), but I'd much rather Archie pay those people to produce back-up strips or work on anthology comics than just draw covers that most readers will never even see, aside from in the postage stamp-sized galleries in the backs of these comics.

Also as with the other recent Archie launches, this is a $3.99 comic, but you do get 23-pages of original story, plus a classic back-up, this one drawn by the aforementioned DeCarlo.

Oh, I suppose I should also note that the back cover calls this "The most highly-anticipated debut in comics history" and...doesn't seem to be joking.

Legends of Tomorrow #5 (DC) We appear to be in the home-stretch here; in fact, Sugar & Spike seems to end, as the last panel includes the word "END" real big. But then, we just saw the solicitation for the Sugar & Spike: Metahuman Investigations collection the other day, and it said that it collected the stories from issues #1-#6 of this series, so I don't really know.

In either case, I sure wouldn't mind if DC continued with this format, but with four new features...although I'd suggest maybe making more than one of them star a character that is actually in the show that this generally mediocre but value-priced series is named after.

So what happens in this issue? Firestorm continues to feature Firestorm Firestorm-ing and Metamorpho is still doing its thing. At this point in those narratives, it was a bit more of a chore to get through them, as the interesting aspect for me–seeing what the creators would do with the characters, particularly in the case of Aaron Lopresti on the latter, as he was reintroducing Metamorpho into the New 52-iverse–has at this point long since worn off.

In Sugar & Spike, we get a flashback to how the title characters went from regular private investigators to PIs specializing in cleaning up metahuman messes and they get a new base of operations that looks like it could set-up their further adventures, should DC decide to let them graduate into their own book, or do another Legends of Tomorrow series and keep this feature. We also get a look inside Sugar's closet, which is full of superhero memorabilia that Flashpoint knocked out of continuity.

And, finally, in Metal Men, the two teams of Metal Men come to blows, while the original team's archfoe Chemo rises for the climactic battle in the next (and final?) issue. While all the male Metal Men are all too happy to fight one another, Platinum and Copper seem to get along from the get-go, so perhaps Copper will be joining the team, adding one more female-shaped robot to the line-up, as she did in Duncan Rouleau's Grant Morrison-inspired Metal Men miniseries of 2007 (which was really rather good).

Lumberjanes #28 (Boom Studios) This ends writers Shannon Watters and Kate Leyh and artist Ayme Sotuyo's current story arc, in which Roanoke Cabin teams up with Zodiac Cabin's Hess and Scouting Lad Barney and a bunch of super-powered kittens to save the 'Janes' leadership from a Roc, which looks and acts more like a Thunderbird to me, but then, its their comic, not mine.

There are two big questions answered here. First, what did Barney and Hess realize at the end of the last issue that will help them get out of this predicament (I had no idea), and what exactly did Barney want to talk to the 'Janes' leaders about (exactly what I suspected).

This issue also features maybe the strongest bit of "continuity" we've seen in the book so far. There are always call-backs to past stories and we've gradually gotten to know more about various characters, but I think this was the most dramatic bit in which a plot point from a previous story played any significant role and the suspenseful ending involves the return of a character from the first story arc, which would make her Lumberjanes' first recurring villain.

Snotgirl #1 (Image Comics) I talked a bit about this comic book in Comics Alliance's "Best Comic Books Ever (This Week)" feature the other day (you guys read that, right?), but the dilemma facing me with this book was that while it is the new Bryan Lee O'Malley comic (an ongoing monthly, no less, and one in which he is working with a very talented artist drawing his scripts), it's also called "Snotgirl" and snot seems to be involved in the plot and I'm not real big into bodily fluids of any kind in my comics. As late as Wednesday afternoon I was assuming I would have to flip through it to see how snotty it is before deciding to pick it up.

Well, I decided to pick it up, as you can see my its presence in my post, so while there's a lot more snot than I would like, it is still an O'Malley-written comic full of quite gorgeous art by newcomer Leslie Hung, who is quite likely to become a lot of people's favorite artists pretty soon.

The protagonist is Lottie Person, who has given herself the nickname "Hotgirl," but, at her lowest, perhaps she is really, well, you know the title. Lottie is a 25-year-old fashion blogger whose socially adrift from her boyfriend (with whom she is on a break) and her fellow blogger friends "The Haters Club" when she meets Caroline (who she dubs "Coolgirl") who is, well, really cool.

Everything seems to be going great, until her allergies strike, and her carefully constructed facade of physical perfection is shattered quite dramatically...or is that melodramatically? Something terrible happens on the last page that will likely color where this is going, but I was a little surprised by how much I liked this issue.

That has a lot to do with Hung's gorgeous art style, which is heavily shojo influenced, as is the lay-out of the book and, I'd argue, the content, to some extent.

It is colored by Mickey Quinn, and I'd almost prefer that it not be coored at all, given that the green of the snot, which is the same almost neon shade of Lottie's hair, makes it seem all the yuckier (And yes, I know the conflict between Lottie's sense of aesthetic perfection and the grossness of rivulets of snot is the whole point, but that still doesn't mean I don't think snot is gross. Maybe I have a lot to learn, I guess, and this comic will teach me to be less judgmental of mucous). There's that, and the fact that Hung's style, as great as it looks in color, suggest black in white simply because of its influence, and I still associate O'Malley comics with black-and-white (I never quite got over the fact that Seconds was in color, you know? Like, there was nothing wrong with it being in color, but the whole time I read it, both times, I kept thinking, "Weird, O'Malley in color").

So now I've got a new dilemma: Should I read Snotgirl as its being published, in serial comic book-format comics, or wait for the trade...? I guess I have about a month to think about that.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

DC's October previews reviewed

Yes, it's that time of the month again.

Written by DAN JURGENS
Covers by CLAY MANN
“BACK IN THE PLANET” part one! Superman returns to the public eye—but what of Lois Lane? When a mysterious package arrives for Lois and Clark back on the farm, Lois can stay on the sidelines no more. But where does that leave Superman’s human doppelgänger, Clark Kent?
On sale OCTOBER 26 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

Written by DAN JURGENS
Covers by CLAY MANN
Variant covers by GARY FRANK
Retailers: These issues will ship with two covers each. Please see the order form for details.
“BACK IN THE PLANET” part two! As the Daily Planet’s star returns to work, so does Lex Luthor. Meanwhile, Superman continues to investigate the devastation in the aftermath of the Doomsday attack.
On sale OCTOBER 26 • Each 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

"Back In"...? Not "Back At"...?

So the solicits for this story arc that is still three months and some six issues away get to the core of my problem with the entire "Rebirth" initiative, the "What the hell are you guys doing, exactly?" problem, which centers on Superman.

Without re-hashing it all again, there are essentially two Supermen and two Lois Lanes, one set of which is a good six or seven or eight years older than the other one, and from a different dimension/universe/continuity.

DC "solved" the Superman problem by killing off the New 52 Superman and having his progenitor replace him as his own legacy or whatever. But they still have the Two Lois problem. I'm not sure which Lois this is, but given that they are making a big deal out of her return to the Planet, I assume that it is Old Lois (She's the one who has been appearing in Action and Superman since the relaunch; the New 52 Lois will apparently be starring in the upcoming Superwoman book).

From little hints dropped here and there, it is apparent that DC has some plan for how they're going to resolve the problems in the Superman franchise, and Jurgens at least seems to be making something of a mystery out of it (note the appearance of a Clark Kent with no powers alongside Superman in Action recently), but I kind of wish they would just tear the bandage off and move on.

Oh! And did you guys see this week's issue of Superman...? Krypto is in it! But he looks like a normal earth dog in a cape, not the big white saber-tooth dire wolf that New 52 Krypto is. Is this Krypto II, or did he emigrate from the pre-Flashpoint DCU too or...what...? I'm really confused about Krypto the Superdog continuity you guys, and I don't think that's a thing people should be confused about...!

“MY OWN WORST ENEMY” part three! Now on the run from both bounty hunters and cops, Batman and Duke must find a safe place to hide out with Two-Face before they can continue their journey to the cure. Batman might soon realize his worst nightmare: that Two-Face is right…and nowhere is safe.
On sale OCTOBER 19 • 40 pg, FC, $4.99 US • RATED T

I just read Batman and Robin Vol. 5: The Big Burn this week, collecting an arc from that weird period where Robin was temporarily dead, and so Batman and Robin changed its title to Batman and... to accommodate guest-stars; that arc was from its time as Batman and Two-Face.

The character, who loomed so large in Batman comics in years past, has been almost entirely absent since the launch of the New 52, and "The Big Burn" was his only real showcase story. It offered a brand-new origin for the character, as well as explaining why we haven't seen much of him. Spoiler: He's dead now.

Or, he was. The ending of that story is evidently a lot less permanent than it looked, if he's now co-starring in the first arc of writer Scott Snyder's next Batman book.

That's an all-around aces creative team, and I'm kinda looking forward to this book, especially in seeing what JRJR does with a classic Batman villain like Two-Face and the much less classic KGBeast.


Say, I don't think KGBeast has appeared in The New 52 yet, has he...? He's a pretty awesome character in how incredibly dated he is (although I know Chris Sims likes something else about him, which is, admittedly, also awesome), and I imagine he will only appear more and more so as time passes and the Soviet Union and the KGB recede further and further into the past.

Written by DAN ABNETT
“UNSTOPPABLE” part two! In the shocking conclusion to this story, the unstoppable juggernaut carves a new path toward Aquaman’s hometown of Amnesty Bay. So far, Arthur’s attempts to halt the creature have been fruitless, but to save his friends and neighbors, the sea king must do the unthinkable.
On sale OCTOBER 19 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

Say, can DC use the phrase "unstoppable juggernaut"...?

Written by TOM KING
Art and cover by MIKEL JANIN
“I Am Suicide” part one! Batman has always been crazy…but this? This is suicide! In order to retrieve Psycho-Pirate and save Gotham Girl, Batman must recruit a team from Amanda Waller to break into the most impenetrable prison in the world and steal from one of the Dark Knight’s greatest foes…Bane. The next great Batman story begins here!
On sale OCTOBER 19 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

Well, the cover shows Arkham Asylum, which makes me wonder if that is where Batman is recruiting his team from (Wait, why are you recruiting a team, Batman? You're Batman! Also, your ex is the world's greatest thief; just call her, man!), or if that's the "impenetrable prison" he's breaking in to. I would assume the Suicide Squad will be assembled from Arkham inmates, since obviously that place isn't all that difficult to break into or out of, in which case this sounds a bit like 2001's Justice Leagues: Justice League of Arkham #1, doesn't it?
I don't remember that particular issue of that event series all that well, which means it was neither awesome nor terrible. How about that George Perez cover though, huh?

On the subject of Batman, I just remembered the "Three Jokers" plot-point from Justice League/DC Universe: Rebirth this afternoon. It doesn't look like that's being picked up in Justice League or any of the Batman comics that have been released so far, which is a little on the weird side. I mean, you would think Batman would make that a priority, right...?

Art and cover by MICHAEL AVON OEMING
Cave Carson has done it all: survived countless adventures below the Earth’s surface, met the love of his life, and gotten a cybernetic eye...somehow. After he and his wife, Eileen, sent their only daughter Chloe off to college, Cave was ready to become just another mundane member of the surface world. That is, until Eileen got sick. Newly widowed, Cave tries to piece his life back together when a knock on the door of his secret underground lab pulls him back into a past that he and Eileen thought they had left buried deep within the Earth.

Adding to his troubles, Cave must determine if his recent hallucinations and visions are the work of his mind or his mysterious cybernetic eye. (Spoiler: It’s the eye.)
Written by Gerard Way (DOOM PATROL, Umbrella Academy) and Jon Rivera (Heartbreak), and illustrated by Michael Avon Oeming (Powers), this is an absurdist action-adventure story unlike any other!
On sale OCTOBER 19 • 40 pg, FC, $3.99 US • MATURE READERS

Well it's about goddam time someone did a Cave Carson comic, and that's all I gotta say.

Written by JOHN SEMPER, JR.
“THE IMITATION OF LIFE” part three! Vic Stone’s quest to save his soul is threatened by an attack from Kilg%re, an artificial alien life form that wishes to purge Cyborg of any remnants of his humanity.
On sale OCTOBER 5 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

Here is example #5,000,000 of DC's weird-ass, both-of-worst-world's relationship to their continuity. The second issue of the the re-booted Cyborg comic, set in a new, rebooted, five-year-old continuity/universe will feature as its antagonist a minor 30-year-old character from The Flash, JLI and the latter book's spin-offs.

So here's a minor character used in a way that's supposed to stoke familiarity and therefore be appealing, but stripped of everything familiar but its name and reintroduced.

The greatest crossovers featuring Justice League members Superman, Batman, Starman and Batgirl against Predator, Terminators and other characters in DC COMICS/DARK HORSE COMICS: JUSTICE LEAGUE VOL. 1. This new collection includes SUPERMAN VS. PREDATOR #1-3, SUPERMAN VS. THE TERMINATOR: DEATH TO THE FUTURE #1-3, BATMAN/HELLBOY/STARMAN #1-2 and GHOST/BATGIRL #1-4.
On sale NOVEMBER 9 • 408 pg, FC, $24.99 US

Or, alternately, DC/Dark Horse: We Weren't Sure What To Call This One. This is a grab-bag of DC/Dark Horse crossovers, with nothing at all in common other than that. I mean, you can call bullshit on the very first sentence: Starman (Here, Starman I and Starman VIII) and Batgirl were never members of the Justice League.

I have only read Batman/Hellboy/Starman, which is okay, and definitely deserves props for being so weird and unusual for a comic of its kind, and Ghost/Batgirl, of which I remember nothing at all. I'm a little surprised to see Superman Vs. Predator collected here, as there are enough comics featuring DC characters fighting Predators that DC could have quite easily done a DC/Dark Horse: Predator collection (Three Batman miniseries, a Superman miniseries and a JLA the Superman and Batman Vs. Aliens and Predator series that was previously collected in DC/Dark Horse: Aliens Vol. 1.

An all around weird bit of marketing here...

I'm a little bummed that the publisher's Superman/Tarzan crossover isn't included, as I recently came upon the first and third issues while trying to clean up and reorganize my comics midden, and I realized I never read the middle section of that series. Also, I've been thinking about Tarzan more than usual lately having recently seen the new film.

Artist Rafa Sandoval draws a rare instance of male broke-back on his cover for Hal Jordan and The Green Lantern Corps #6. That is, admittedly, not what I first noticed on this cover. No, it was that Sinestro recruited King Kong into the Sinestro Corps. That's one thing I love about the various Lantern teams and the fact that they pull members from anywhere in the entire universe; writers and artists can pick anyone or anything–a house cat, a humanoid bat wearing a gimp mask, Ganesh–and give them a magic wishing ring and team uniform. Here, Sandoval and/or the writer and/or the interior artist decided to go with "a giant gorilla," and why not...?

Lobo’s back! The Main Man and Harley Quinn have a lot in common—motorcycles and mayhem, for starters—so it’s long past time they found each other! This could be the start of a fraggin’ beautiful friendship…or they could destroy the planet. Or both! It can be two things!
On sale OCTOBER 26 • 32 pg, FC, $4.99 US • RATED T+ • FINAL ISSUE

Six issues? That's it? I'm a little surprised, and even a little disappointed, that this is being cancelled so quickly since it's A) A Harley Quinn book, B) It looks like a very easy Harley Quinn book for Conner and Palmiotti to write and C) It's usage of/reliance on rotating artists makes it the most interesting of DC's (probably too) many Harley Quinn books and helps spread the Harley wealth around while the character is still "hot."

The first few issues weren't terrible, but this is the second solicitation in a row that seemed like a nice pairing of artist with subject matter, as early '90s Lobo artist Simon Bisley arrives to draw Harley's team-up with what by all appearances seems to be the early '90s version of Lobo (rather than one of the two or three rebooted versions that have been around since The New 52 launched five years ago).

I am glad DC finally found a full-length, interior project for Bisley to do, after giving him some cover assignments and at least one short story over the course of the last few years. If Simon Bisley wants to draw your superhero comics for you, I say you move heaven and Earth to let him do so.

Say, did you guys read the Injustice annual where Harley Quinn fought Lobo? That was one of the better stories in Injustice so far, I thought.

Art and cover by AARON LOPRESTI
Residing on Earth and out of the hero game, Adam Strange finds himself trying to live a “normal” life, until he’s literally pulled back into adventure again when a seemingly normal Zeta beam transmission returns him to the planet Rann, where he hopes to be reunited with his beloved Alanna. But instead he finds the once-great city of Ranagar in ruins, with millions dead, and the once peaceful Alanna is now calling for the blood of Rann’s oldest enemy, Thanagar, home of the Hawkmen. Sensing something is amiss, Strange finds an ally in Hawkman, who also is trying anything possible to avert war. Don’t miss the start of this sensational new six-issue miniseries!
On sale OCTOBER 5 • 32 pg, FC, 1 of 6, $3.99 US • RATED T

Two unpopular characters, one unpopular title! So what are New 52 Hawkman and New 52 Adam Strange going to be getting up to here...? Let's see, Rann and Thanagar on the brink of war, huh? Great! DC hasn't done a Rann-Thanagar war comic in years...! Like, ten.

Art and covers by FREDDIE E. WILLIAMS II
He-Man and the Masters of the Universe team up with the ThunderCats—the epic crossover event you’ve waited thirty years to see! In his ever-living desire to destroy the mighty ThunderCats, Mumm-Ra quests for a weapon that can rival the legendary Sword of Omens: He-Man’s Sword of Power! But his dimension-spanning scheme kick starts a cataclysmic crisis that will embroil heroes and villains—Masters, Mutants and ThunderCats—in a mind-blowing six-part saga!
On sale OCTOBER 5 • 32 pg, FC, 1 of 6, $3.99 US • RATED T

I was a huge He-Man fan growing up, but never took to The ThunderCats much, as that cartoon was least after the opening theme sequence, which was really well animated. Also, I Snarf filled me with rage. That said, He-Man and The Masters of The Universe was also garbage, and worse garbage at that, but I was younger and didn't notice as much when it was originally airing (and anyway, I got into it through the action figures and they were dope, regardless of how shitty the cartoon was)

That, paired with the fact that DC's He-Man comics have been mind-boggling terrible (especially the DC Universe crossover) leads me to believe this will probably be very not very good. The fact that I have no idea who either writer is doesn't fill me with a lot of confidence.

That said, I am curious to see what Williams, who just got done drawing the Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles crossover, will come up with for these two sets of characters. I just hope that they're starting fresh with the characters, rather than trying to set them in the rather weird continuity of the DC version of He-Man and company, which kinda limits the appeal of their books dealing with those characters.

There are two covers, one featuring the bad guys and one featuring the good guys. I used the bad guy one, because they are generally much more interesting to look at than the good guys.

Written by RENAE DE LIZ
Art and cover by RENAE DE LIZ and RAY DILLON
The new WONDER WOMAN 9-issue miniseries written and pencilled by Renae De Liz is collected here! In the beginning there was only chaos. But Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, saw a better future—and eventually her daughter would be destined to bring that new world to life! Before her ultimate fate unfolds though, Diana of Themyscira must learn the important lessons of an Amazonian childhood!
On sale DECEMBER 7 • 288 pg, FC, $29.99 US

If you read my weekly "Comic Shop Comics" reactions to what I buy and read on any given Wednesday, than you know that I'm pretty fond of this book. If you don't but are at all interested in Wonder Woman, I'd highly recommend this book. It basically re-tells the character's original Golden Age origin story, updating aspects to make it more palatable to a modern audience–both in matters of political correctness as well as sophistication of story-telling–without gutting what makes the various characters so interesting in the first place. Writer/artist Renae De Liz makes some choices I likely wouldn't have, particularly regarding the origins of the Amazons, but everything she does she does well. I've lamented before that this is set in Wonder Woman's original World War II milieu, if only because this is good enough to be the preeminent Wonder Woman origin story, her equivalent to Batman: Year One or any of the better Superman origin stories, but that setting will unfortunately consign it to outside current DC Comics continuity. Which is where, unfortunately, all the best Wonder Woman comics are set...

Cover by ACO
Variant cover by HOWARD PORTER
Retailers: This issue will ship with two covers. Please see the order form for details.
You wanted it? You got it—six more issues of Midnighter madness! Together again after too long apart, Midnighter and Apollo take on subway pirates in Los Angeles and demons in Opal City…but their reunion is about to take a shocking turn and send them both on an epic journey beyond all belief!
On sale OCTOBER 5 • 1 of 6, $3.99 US • RATED T+

Hey, look! It's the very last vestiges of the WildStorm "Universe" being folded into the DC Universe during Flashpoint/The New 52! And it's...a Batman analogue and Superman analogue. Huh.

Seriously, writer Steve Orlando's Midnighter monthly was, for the most part, pretty good, and one of the better of the ongoings to come out of the "DCYou" initiative (My favorite series of that period were the mini-series like Bizarro and, obviously, All Star Section Eight; I discussed the first collection of Midnighter in this post, though). I was a little bummed to see the series was being canceled, but then its numbers were crazy-low. So I am glad to see it's getting a bit of a reprieve, or at least that Orlando's getting another shot at a story, which, one has to assume, would have been an arc in his ongoing if his ongoing was still going on.

As I mentioned recently, I really like the character as a foil to Nightwing, at least as Tim Seeley has used the pair together, so I do hope Midnighter doesn't simply completely disappear the way that all the other WildStorm imports have.

“MADE IN CHINA” part four! It’s the Justice League of China vs. the Chinese Freedom Fighters! As the New Super-Man tests his power against the Flying Dragon General’s team, a shocking new revelation will stop our young hero dead in his tracks. And trust us, you won’t believe what Kenan Kong discovers! All this, plus the Chinese Freedom Fighters’ ultimate weapon arrives, and it’ll be the STAR of the show…
On sale OCTOBER 12 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

I really like DC's Freedom Fighters characters, and while I know these will be the Chinese versions (post-Flashpoint, I don't think we've seen the American versions, just The Ray and Human Bomb in forgotten miniseries written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray) that still gets me a little excited. It also explains why in the first issue of the series Kenan Kong faced a villain named Blue Condor, who looked vaguely like one of the more recent, 21st century legacy versions of Black Condor.

There’s no such thing as a little bit of madness.
Far away on the planet Meta, Loma’s going nowhere fast. She’s dropped out of school, dumped her boyfriend, and is bored out of her mind. She longs to feel things. That’s where her idol, the lunatic poet Rac Shade, and his infamous madness coat come it. Loma steals the garment and makes a break across galaxies to take up residence in a new body: Earth girl Megan Boyer. Surely everything will be better on this passionate primitive planet with a dash of madness on her side and this human girl’s easy life. Only now that she’s here, Loma discovers being a teenaged Earth girl comes with its own challenges and Earth may not be everything she thought it’d be. Megan Boyer was a bully whom everyone was glad was almost dead, and now Loma has to survive High School and navigate the consequences of the life she didn’t live with the ever-growing and uncontrollable madness at her side. Not to mention that there are people back on her homeworld who might just want Shade’s coat back.
Written by Cecil Castellucci (THE PLAIN JANES, Moving Target: A Princess Leia Adventure), drawn by Marley Zarcone (EFFIGY) and overseen by Gerard Way, SHADE, THE CHANGING GIRL starts a whole new chapter in the story of one of comics’ most unique series.
On sale OCTOBER 5 • 40 pg, FC, $3.99 US • MATURE READERS

Well, best of luck to prose writer and comics dabbler Cecil Castellucci with this, but based on how the last comic DC tried that took an obscure superhero character that found wider success in the '90s as a mature readers Vertigo character and then gender-flipped them into a young female character turned out, well, I don't expect this to perform all that well.

If you've forgotten, that would be Prez, and that was maybe tied with Omega Men for the biggest and quickest flop of the "DCYou" launches.

Personally, I think if you're going to try and do something with the Shade, The Changing Man character at this point, it would be more interesting and fresher to go back to the original, weirdo superhero conception rather than to continue to pursue the Peter Milligan Vertigo conception, as this seems to do, but what do I know? I just read the damn things.

If this sells only 35 copies, then it will have sold far more issues than any of the comics I've written...

Written by JOE KELLY
Cover by ALEX ROSS
The six-issue miniseries from 2005 is back in a new edition! For the first time, learn how Space Ghost got his power bands and why he protects the galaxy from evil! Witness the tragic circumstances that led to his donning a cowl and his first battle with arch-nemesis Zorak!
On sale NOVEMBER 9 • 144 pg, FC, $16.99 US

It was very interesting to see this show up in here, as I'm pretty sure it has been on a lot of readers' minds as DC's weird Hanna-Barbera-for-grown-ups comics have been rolling out. This prefigured that move by over a decade. I've read at least the first issue of all of the Hanna-Barbereboot comics except Future Quest (as the one comic I was positive I would like, I decided to trade-wait that one), but as far as I can tell, Future Quest hews closest to Joe Kelly and Ariel Olivetti's take on Space Ghost than the other reboots, which seem to doing randomly weird for random weirdness' sake.

It's been a while since I read this, but I liked it an awful lot, and it seriousness never stopped surprising me, although it was never so serious that it got tedious. I remember thinking that this Space Ghost would have fit into the DC Universe of the time quite easily–like, I could honestly have pictured this Space Ghost joining the JLA–and wondering/hoping that DC would try something similar with the other Hanna-Barbera superhero characters that Alex Ross didn't seem to mind painting.

I guess that's what Future Quest is...they just took a long time to get around to doing it.

Oh, and speaking of the Hanna-Barbereboot,I have reviews of the first issues of Scooby-Apocalypse, Wacky Raceland and The Flintstones in the works, and hope to run them here on EDILW in the next week or two.

Art and cover by BILQUIS EVELY
The last time we saw Sugar & 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. In these tales from LEGENDS OF TOMORROW #1-6, Sugar and Spike take on assignments on behalf of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and more!
On sale NOVEMBER 9 • 144 pg, FC, $14.99 US

Okay, I was wondering how or if DC would collect the individual storylines from the the Legends of Tomorrow anthology, and was assuming it would be by breaking them into collections of their own, like this.

Sugar & Spike has been the most head-scratching of the four features–the others being Firestorm, Metamorpho and The Metal Men–as there is literally no reason for it to feature grown-up versions of baby characters Sugar & Spike. It's also been the best of the four though, and maybe the only one that doesn't require one have at leas some small amount of affection for the star of the particular feature. So I'm glad to see that they're collecting this one, as it's the storyline I'd recommend.

It's a little wonky in that it uses The New 52 designs of Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern and Batman and related characters (even when, as in the case with Killer Moth, the original designs would be funnier and more fitting), but it's otherwise pretty clearly set in the old continuity, one that includes their Silver Age adventures. There might be some weird meta-commentary to made there, since the whole concept is that they are PIs who clean up the embarrassing messes of the World's Greatest Heroes, but it mostly just reads as disconcerting, given the inherent weirdness of doing a comic book series about Sugar & Spike so far removed from those characters that only their names are used.

Giffen's plots are funny, even if he's dialogue usually isn't (Sugar comes off as a savage shrew of a woman, and Spike as emotionally abused), and Bilquis Evely's artwork makes the feature a stand-out in Legends...and compared to much of what DC publishes at the moment.

I'd recommend it.

Art and cover by DOUG MAHNKE and JAIME MENDOZA
“RETURN TO DINOSAUR ISLAND” part one! Father and Superson work on a science assignment with bizarre consequences that transports the pair along with Krypto to Dinosaur Island! Now, amid relics of World War II, Superman tries to keep Jon from the jaws of prehistoric predators! Worse, Kal-El can’t find a way to fly off the Island.
On sale OCTOBER 5 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

Variant covers by KENNETH ROCAFORT
Retailers: These issues will ship with two covers each. Please see the order form for details.
“RETURN TO DINOSAUR ISLAND” part two! Trapped on a strange island removed from time, Superman and Son encounter a lone survivor from the past. He may hold the key to their escape, but first they must survive the other denizens of the Island.
On sale OCTOBER 19 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

Any comic set on The War That Time Forgot's Dinosaur Island is A-OK with me. That this one will also be very well drawn and likely fairly well written? All the better.

This is the very talented Liam Sharp's cover to one of October's issues of Wonder Woman. I hate it. Her face looks weirdly Lynda Carter-ish, kinda like when Gary Frank drew a Christopher Reeve-faced Superman in his comics, and if that's Steve, he looks hella weird too. He needs a shave and haircut ASAP. And maybe a long-sleeve shirt to cover up that tattoo.

That is all.