Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Comic Shop Comics: August 31

Afterlife With Archie #10 (Archie Comics) Well this wasn't at all what I was expecting, even after more closely studying Francesco Francavilla's awesome cover and seeing all the bats on it. This $5, 33-page issue is a departure from the ongoing story arc, somewhat reminiscent of the sixth issue, which similarly shifted focus from the main cast's battle against the hordes of zombies to devote an issue to another Archie Comics character (Sabrina) and other supernatural elements (witchcraft, Cthulu,other Lovecraftian stuff). The difference between the sixth issue and the tenth, however, is that Sabrina was already an integral part of the narrative, as it was one of her spells that initiated the zombie apocalypse, and, based on the ninth issue, she would play a future role as well.

This issue, which is essentially just writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's riff on Anne Rice's Interview With a Vampire (with bits of her later Lestat books and a detour into The Great Gatsby thrown in), barely connects to the ongoing plot at all. On the final page, Josie and The Pussycats' plane is set to land in Riverdale, where they were to be playing a show on Halloween, the same night as the big dance that "Jugdead" interrupted.

The other connections are merely in the way that Aguirre-Sacasa and Francavilla include another Archie Comics property into a sort of alternate horror universe.

On that fateful Halloween, a reporter is interviewing the notoriously reclusive Josie McCoy of the band Josie and The Pussycats, who, we are told are the biggest thing in music at the moment, but about who almost nothing is known. She tells him her entire life story, starting with her birth in 1906 and continuing on to her being turned into a vampire and turning her fellow vaudeville performers Melody and Valerie as well. Each decade or so they would disappear and reinvent themselves as a new band with a new name, keeping up with the changing style of music. Josie and The Pussycats is only their current incarnation; a Riverdale-based garage band six years ago whose songs went viral on YouTube and they became what they are today.

I like the idea of story, particularly the idea of an immortal pop band that's been popular since vaudeville. There's something to that immortality aspect that fits with the idea of these characters, like the other stars of various Archie Comics, as teenagers who never age a day as decades upon decades pass, although Aguirre-Sacasa doesn't really do anything with it.

I can't say I found much to like in the execution, however. Because the bulk of the book is osie narrating her life to a reporter, and because this is a 33-page comic book and not a first-person novel, it doesn't read quite so much like a story as it reads like someone summarizing a story.

Additionally, Josie and The Pussycats doesn't really seem like a 2010-2016 act, and it's weird that they took on their 1960s identity in 2010 or so, rather than in the 1960s (during that time, they were The Velvettes, with Valerie as the lead singer and Josie and Melody back-up. The other characters are basically non-entities. Josie isn't exactly a deeply fleshed out character or anything, but she's on-panel most of the time. Melody and Valerie, by contrast, barely get any dialogue; the former is just a drawing in the background, the latter only really comes up a few times when race is an issue, reducing her (unintentionally) to role of "the black one."

Granted, there are still things in here I would never have expected to see in an Archie comic, as is, ironically, now to be expected from Afterlife With Archie. Here, that would be a cameo from Charles Manson. Aguirre-Sacasa has some neat ideas about vampires, and I suppose there's still the promise that this will connect to the main narrative in the future. There were, after all, a trio of 110-year-old vampires on the ground in Riverdale when the zombie outbreak first occurred, but unlike the previous nine issues, I found this one merely interesting, as opposed to compelling.

Black Panther Vol. 1: A Nation Under Our Feet (Marvel Entertainment) I bought this today, but didn't read it. I look forward to doing so though, and I'm sure I'll tell you all about my thoughts and feelings about it after I do. So far my only comment is that Ta-Nehisi Coates' name is really, really big on the cover, and placed in a way that is unusual for the writers of most Marvel comics. Much bigger than that of his collaborator Brian Stelfreeze, who gets an "Illustrated by" credit, rather than an "and." Which seems wrong, since Coates doesn't get a "written by."

DC Comics Bombshells Annual #1 (DC Comics) Regular Bombshells writer Marguerite Bennett teams with artist Elsa Charretier for this rather excellent side-story of her ongoing "What If A Bunch of Scantily-Clad DC Superhero Women Fought World War II?" story.

The honestly rather unfortunate cover by Terry Dodson shows Bombshell Batgirl (borrowing Hawkeye's mask, apparently), and nothing else, not giving readers a very good idea of what to expect from the interior. What should you expect? A lot. Bennett's story starts in the "present" of 1941, in which Lieutenant Francine Charles, codenamed "Oracle," is given an assignment by Amanda Waller: Find the long-missing Batgirl and bring her back.

Who is Batgirl Barbara Gordoun? Her origin is explained during an 11-page sequence presented as visuals to a song that the Bombshells play for Charles. It's the sort of sequence that would appear in Bennett's monthly series, in which the backstories of various characters are generally presented in interesting ways that ape particular media and/or styles, but here in the annual she and artist Charreteir get plenty of room to make the sequence breathe.

Gordoun was a pilot who fought for the Allies in World War I, and fell in love with a German pilot, Luc "The Flying Fox" Fuchs. It took me a while to realize who he was supposed to be–his red Fokker triplane made me think of Enemy Ace and The Red Baron, in that order–but this is the Bombshells-iverse's Luke Fox, aka Batwing II, who briefly dated Barbara Gordon during the "Burnside" era of the character's solo series (Where Frankie Charles played such a big role< as well; it's interesting that Bennett looked to such recent Babs stories to inform her alternate universe take on the character). When she lost him, she traveled the world, looking for the means to restore the dead to life, and ended up a vampire (Yes, that makes two books about red-headed vampire ladies in this little stack of comics I brought home from the shop tonight). She's forms a coven with the Bombshells versions of Ravager and The Enchantress in a Belle Reeve Manor House in a Louisiana Bayou, which is frequented by Killer Croc.

It's up to the dashing Charles to find, defeat and recruit them all. Spoiler alert, she does, and, in the process, forms the Bomshells-iverse's answer to a particular DC Comics super-team, which is known to be based in a place called Belle Reeve and to include the likes of Enchantress and Croc in its ranks.

The annual was a particular delight, mainly because of how goddam charming Bennetts' fast, flirty, swashbuckling Frankie Charles is and because of how charming Charretier's artwork is. Bombshells generally has pretty great art, but because of the nature of the book, it usually has more than one artist per issue. So it's nice to see Charretier getting a whole 38-pages to herself.

There is so much to like here that I'm tempted to just scan a bunch of panels and say, "Look at this!" over and over, but perhaps I'll just say that I'd highly recommend the book, particularly as an introduction to the Bombshells ongoing, which has to my great surprise turned out to be a consistently high-quality series (And maybe, just maybe, the gayest comic book on the stands...certainly among the mainstream super-books, anyway).

Before moving on to the next book, I would like to point out two things of special note. First, I think this is the first time that Bennett has made it explicit that this alternate history is quite so alternate. In addition to all the superheroes running around, she is apparently not repeating the All-Star Squadron formula of Real WWII History + Superheroes.

There's a scene where Waller asks if Frankie uses a cane because of polio, and she responds "If it's good enough for the president, it's good enough for me." Waller replies, "I'll let her know you feel that way...Eleanor is more dangerous on two wheels than half the German army crawling along on the spiked treads of their panzers."

So apparently it is Eleanor rather than Franklin D. who is the President Roosevelt of the Bombshells-iverse...and she had polio and was confined to a wheelchair instead of him. That firs part may make some sort of sense given how diverse and cosmopolitan the WWII era of this book is compared to that of the real world...and even 2016, if we're being honest.

Second, The Ravager in this book is a prophetess, who speaks her prophecies in snippets of backwards dialogue, all smooshed together with no break between words. There's one point at which she refers to Frankie as "the new Oracle," which was apparently where Brenden Fletcher and Cameron Stewart were going with her in their Batgirl, which spent it's last half-dozen or so issues apparently assembling an awesome new Birds of Prey line-up...only to have it dashed by DC's "Rebirth" plans.

At any rate, I found it interesting that while the Earth-0 Frankie Charles never got to officially be dubbed "Oracle," the Earth-Bombshell Frankie Charles gets called "the new Oracle" here.

Gotham Academy Annual #1 (DC) Like the Lumberjanes/Gotham Academy crossover, this annual should help tide fans over until the new series launches. Regular writers Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher reunite with Adam Archer and two other pencil artists, three inkers and three colorists for an oversized adventure that demonstrates just how weird this series can be.

There's a mystery afoot at the Academy, with many students falling to a mysterious illness. The clues? A caped figure seen from afar, apparently carrying something large, rectangular and wooden. An increase in the rat population. The disappearance of all garlic from the kitchen. Sketchy guest-lecturer Derek Powers.

With Olive sidelined by the sickness, Colton and Pomeline come up wit their own theories, and Detective Club splits into two factions, each operating on their own theory. Colton thinks Powers is somehow poisoning the studnet body, while Pomeline thinks there's a vampire on the scene.

Turns out, they're both right! Powers is a supervillain (Blight from Batman Beyond, here to destroy Terry McGinnis' ancestor, who goes to school with our heroes), but there's also a vampire on campus, Gustav DeCobra (from Detective Comics #455). So yeah, Gotham Academy Annual #1 has as its villains an extremely minor vampire character from a one-off appearance in 1976 and a time-travelling super-villain from a 1999-2001 Batman cartoon. That's just the kind of book this is.

I enjoyed this a lot more than I have many of the individual issues, in large part because the extra page-count allowed for the complete story to be told all at once. One of the problems with Gotham Academy, I've found, is that it doesn't read terribly well serially. The annual, obviously, doesn't have to, as it's a nice, big, done-in-one.

Kuma Miko: Girl Meets Bear Vol. 1 (One Peace Books) I bought this today too, but haven't yet read it. I plan to as soon as I hit "publish" on this post. I just really liked the cover. And the back cover. And the promise of the solicitation copy saying it is the story of a girl raised with a talking bear trying to come to grips with modern society.

The Legend of Wonder Woman #9 (DC) This is the last issue of the series as originally announced, but apparently Renae De Liz and Ray Dillon's series has done well enough that DC has decided to continue it. As a last issue, then, this seems to reflect that a bit, as there are a few passages that seem promise events in the future.

I was pretty surprised that The Titan, the big, world-ending giant monster that Wonder Woman faces at the end of this, is apparently a sort of Manhunter android. De Liz doesn't hit a reader over the head with the allusion to Green Lantern comics, but it's there to recognize is you're familiar with that bit of lore. It's an awfully interesting bit of world-building, actually.

More delightful still is the bit at the end, where Etta manages to track down Wonder Woman after she has saved the world, but fled from her life with Steve, Etta and the Holliday Girls so as not to endanger them. When Wonder Woman, hanging out on an island, is shocked to see Etta sail up and wants to know how she found her, Etta replies:
I triangulated your location from word of your heroics. You know, "Wonder Woman Seen Punching The Lights Out of Thugs In Brazil" or "Nutty Woman Wearing American Flag Saves Kitten From Tree In Africa"...

...Not to mention your team-up with the Justice Society at the end of the war!

Get Hourman's signature for my brother, Mint, okay?
For the most part, this Wonder Woman's existence in the a DC Universe has been confined to the occasional unexpected cameo, like young reporter Perry White or Dickensian street urchin Alfred Pennyworth, but here's a pretty explicit mention of a team full of super-heroes, which should hearten the JSA-starved DC fans of the post-Flashpoint era.

I do hope we get to see that team-up, and, of course, plenty more of Wonder Woman's adventures of this era.

Now that this series...or at least this opening arc is finished, I can say with certitude that De Liz's The Legend of Wonder Woman is a pretty great Wonder Woman comic and is, as I suspected it may beafter the first few issues, finally the sort of standalone, origin story comic starring the character that can be serve as her equivalent to, say, Batman: Year One.

Saga #37 (Image Comics) Hey, ever wonder what goes on in the head of Prince Sir Robot while he masturbates? Well, thanks to his monitor face, all you need to do is look at it while he's masturbating to see, and guess what? This issue contains just such a scene!

It also contains a group of aliens that are essentially just meerkats in clothes, which of course it does.

Suicde Squad Special: War Crimes #1 (DC) This unusual one-shot raises an interesting question: Why didn't DC just invite John Ostrander back to write Suicide Squad when they relaunched it in 2011? The three Suicide Squad series that DC has published since 2011–Suicide Squad, New Suicide Squad and Suicide Squad–have had seven writers, none of whom were John Ostrander (They were, instead, Adam Glass, Dwayne Swierczynski, Ales Kot, Matt Kindt, Sean Ryan, Tim Seeley and Rob Williams.) It's curious to me that somewhere around the fourth writer or the second relaunch in a few years they didn't think to see if Ostrander wanted to come back for a while.

This $5, 38-page special is a curious comic, as it is simply a single and straightforward classic-style Suicide Squad mission with no subplots or dalliance with the inner lives of the characters. It's too short to be a graphic novel, although it's not hard to imagine Ostrander having fleshed it out into being an original graphic novel, or even a miniseries. I...don't really know why this book exists, to be frank, other than to give the guy most responsible for the current incarnation of the Suicide Squad a chance to make a little more money off of it than he's already getting in royalties form the collections...which DC is just now finally getting serious about releasing (Hopefully the less-than-warm reception of the film doesn't torpedo efforts to collect the whole series in trade!).

As Chris Sims said at Comics Alliance today, it does function quite well as a sample of what one could expect from the classic Suicide Squad collections; starring a team of characters from the movies but reflective of the original Ostrander (and, later, Ostrander/Kim Yale) run, this is a pretty good gateway comic...even if at $5, it's like one-fourth the cost of a trade.

You've got the shockingly hardcore Amanda Waller, you've got Deadshot and Captain Boomerang, you've got foreign metahumans adversaries which can only properly be met by some of America's, you've got geo-politics and international intrigue with the flimsiest veneer of fictionalization. There's even the return of the theater-style briefing room that was central to the original run of the series.

The plot here is that a group of European metahumans have kidnapped a fictional composite of Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney and delivered him to the Hague to be tried for war crimes, and it's up to the Squad to return him safely to the states or die trying.

The Squad, as I said, is movie-viewer friendly: Deadshot, Boomerang, Rick Flag, Harley Quinn, El Diablo and Mad Dog (Guess which one gets killed in action!). The artwork is by Gus Vazquez and Carlos Rodriguez, colored by Gabe Eltaeb, and its among the best Suicide Squad art I've seen of the post-Flashpoint period. The character designs are mostly composites of their original looks, New 52 looks and movie looks, so that pretty much all of them are easily identifiable, no matter where you know them from. The art is overall bright, clear and easy to read: Unlike just all of the Suicide Squad comics I've read in the last five years, it wasn't an unpleasant chore making my way through this.

It is perhaps unfortunate that this is such a standalone book, though, as those are the kinds of books a lot of super-comics readers tend to ignore, or at least not prioritize in the way they do the "main" books. This isn't the current Suicide Squad book, after all, nor does it appear to have anything in it that will impact that book.

It is a pretty damn good, 1980s-style action comic, though, with fine characterization from the guy who re-invented so many of these characters.

1 comment:

Bram said...

Tough on the BLACK PANTHER credit situation. All about everybody involved getting their due, but this book will (and did) bring people into the shop who'd never been in, just looking for Coates' name.