Sunday, December 25, 2016

Comic Shop Comics: December 21st

Archie #15 (Archie Comics) It is Friday afternoon as I am typing these words, and I bought and read this comic book on Wednesday afternoon. In the two days since, it has been sitting atop a small stack of comic book next to my laptop in my apartment, and I must have walked past it a dozen or two times. And yet it is just now that I realize that Joe Eisma's cover image featuring Cheryl Blossom is a rather direct reference to that rather famous poster of Farrah Fawcett. I guess it took me so long because while the pose is identical, Cheryl is dressed much more age-appropriate, and this cover has all kinds of text crowding in on the image (Archie Comics even did that dumb thing DC Comics does whenever they have a mass-media adaptation going on, and put a dang ad right on the cover).

In this issue, writer Mark Waid and Eisma bring the Veronica vs. Cheryl war to its conclusion, while back in Riverdale Jughead and Archie's other friends help him through his rough patch, which has been so rough that last issue Archie had begun slowly transforming into Jughead.

As a result of Veronica and Cheryl's battle of the queen bees at their European boarding school, both of them are returning to the U.S....specifically, Riverdale. I was personally a little surprised that Waid had introduced Cheryl this early in the Archie reboot's life, given how late in Archie history she debuted as a new point in the traditional Archie/Veronica/Betty love triangle. In fact, Waid hasn't really explored that triangle all that much thus far, so jumping right into a third potential love interest for Archie now may seem counterintuitive...or it could be just the threat to Archie that Betty and Veronica need to become allies (or at least frenemies) rather than the rivals they have thus far been in the pages of Archie.

Once again, in lieu of a classic reprint, this issue simply prints a sizable chunk of an issue of another comic book I've already bought and read--here, the cover and first six pages of Tom DeFalco and Sandy Jarrell's Reggie And Me #1 (which was okay, but the weakest of the "new" Archie books published thus far). I do hope Archie Comics cuts this out pretty quickly and returns to running reprints of classic issues, as otherwise Archie is, in terms of format, just another 20-page, $3.99 comic book, little different from Marvel's over-priced, better-to-wait-for-the-trade comics (although sans all the obnoxious house ads breaking up the story pages, I guess; Archie Comics tastefully leaves all the ads for the back of the book).

Batman #13 (DC Comics) This is the apparent climax and conclusion of writer Tom King's "I Am Suicide" arc of Batman, drawn by Mikel Janin. This is the one where Batman essentially forms his own Suicide Squad consisting of Catwoman, The Ventriloquist Arnold Wesker, Bronze Tiger* and Punch and Jewlee** in order to storm Bane's island of Santa Prisca to recover The Psycho-Pirate.

Much of Batman's plan to do so has been pretty dumb; it involved letting Bane break his back so that the villain thinks he has won (or maybe just dislocating his spine...? Batman did some weird, painful move involving shackles earlier to somehow fix his back injury). I've been pretty fascinated by the presence of Wesker though, as he's here sans Scarface, and, without him, he is basically just a dumpy, overweight guy with some sort of multiple personality disorder. Of Batman's Squad, he's the one who wouldn't last long in any kind of fight, and King has played up his presence as a "secret weapon" of some kind for four issues now.

Here, all of the players play their part, as a nude and straight-edge Bane tries wrestling Batman to death, all along talking to him about mental health and how simply having a meta-human with a magic artifact capable of manipulating human emotions is all driven men like the two of them really need in order to be happy.

Some of the parts are a little on the lame side--Bronze Tiger doesn't do a whole lot, for example, although one assumes Taylor has plans for him in the future, as every issue of his Batman has so far been part of an ongoing storyline--but The Ventriloquist reveal did not disappoint. For the past few months, I've been puzzling out exactly what Wesker was going to do, assuming it had something to do with ventriloquism (for example, I thought perhaps he could work the Medusa Mask via ventriloquism, throwing his voice to make it sound like it was coming out of Psycho-Pirate?). Instead (and spoiler alert, obviously), it basically comes down to the fact that The Ventriloquist and Scarface are immune to the mask because a) the way the former's brain is wired and b) the latter isn't actually real.

All in all, this was a pretty satisfying, heist-style story arc, albeit one that likely reads much better in trade (last issue, while good, really slowed the pace of the story with a long detour into the psychology of the characters), and one that reintroduces and/or rehabilitates some DC characters we haven't seen all that much of lately. There are still some questions to be resolved regarding Catwoman, and I'm assuming they will be addressed in the next issue.

Oh, there is an interesting two page sequence in the middle meant to tie-in to this week's Justice League Vs. Suicide Squad #1 (it's explicitly referenced via asterisk and editorial box in the other comic), and it basically consists of Amanda Waller waltzing into the Batcave and confronting Alfred Pennyworth.

They just talk to one another, and don't come to blows, which seems awfully...uncharacteristic of Alfred. I suppose what happens between them aside from words might be addressed elsewhere later, but I would really have liked to see an Alfred vs. The Wall battle. If the implication is that Alfred just stood aside while she took what she said she came to get, then I do wish King and Janin would have at least added some metahuman muscle in the background behind Waller, perhaps in the form of a villain able to paralyze or otherwise restrain Alfred during the scene. Otherwise, one has to assume he would have spoken some code to activate the robot dinosaur or whipped out a rifle or tried to jump into a Bat-vehicle and turn its weapons on her or something.

Anyway, this has been a pretty interesting arc so far. I am not looking forward to the upcoming one, "I Am Bane," when artist David Finch returns to pencil.

Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye #3 (DC) Artist Michael Avon Oeming and the writing team of Gerard Way and Jon Rivera move from a good old-fashioned, cars-chasing-cars car chase scene, which began last issue, to a pretty splendid underground car chase of sorts, in which a giant plant monster chases Cave Carson’s Mole car through a tunnel it digs with the laser beam mounted in its grill.

Pages four and five are a pretty cool spread in which the tunnels fills the pages, and repeating images of the car and pursuing monster fill the tunnels, a handful of circular panels breaking out to include close-ups of the characters and their dialogue.

It’s a pretty great scene, clever in its execution of displaying the all-around weirdness of the original concept, which Way and Rivera are endeavoring to make weirder still (i.e. the “Has a Cybernetic Eye” part of the title), and Oeming’s idiosyncratic art can’t help but make look weird.

But forget all that; Cave, Wild Dog and Cave’s daughter’s wild, violent adventures and the corporate intrigue are really just a paper pedestal upon which to set the back-up, Tom Scioli’s amazing, three-page “Super Powers” feature.

In this outing, the first two pages are devoted to the Wonder Twins’ powers manifesting, in a surprisingly effective bit of body horror (following an unexpected appearance of Superman, which comes via a still more unexpected still allusion to Jack Kirby’s DC work). The third is a bravura “Green Arrow: Did You Ever Wonder How He Came To Be?” story which tells the story of Green Arrow’s original origin story in just 16 panels, while simultaneously subverting it (his account of events via narration make him look a little better than some of what is shown in the panels), connecting it to one of the earliest Justice League villains in a way that makes perfect sense, adding a few devastatingly effective jokes, showing DC’s resident liberal, hippie superhero smoking on some particular potent vegetation of some kind, introducing an alien into the story and explaining GA’s rather too-descriptive codename.

This single page, in other words, illustrates everything that Scioli does so well, from hyper-compression to connection-drawing, from humor to shared universe synthesizing.

It is maybe the best comic DC is publishing right now…even if it’s doing it at a rate of just three pages per month.

Nightwing #11 (DC) Tom Seeley and Marcus To’s “Bludhaven” story arc continues, as Nightwing meets still more “The Run-Offs,” minor villain characters who, in this story, have fled from Gotham City to the Bat-less Bludhaven.

What, exactly, they are all doing there is a little mysterious still, but here it starts to become clear that they are in some kind of group therapy together, working to shed their super-villain pasts, and they aren’t happy to see Nightwing, who their leader recognizes from his days as Robin.

As for these villains, they are mostly minor Chuck Dixon co-creations, like Stallion, Mouse, Giz and Thrill Devil. They’ve all been given more colorful redesigns here, and, in the case of Mouse, she’s been rebooted to a different race (That would be Mouse, who gets the worst of the new costumes).

Nightwing is in a weird position here, as the police aren’t happy about his presence, nor are the villains, and he’s not entirely sure what side he’s on or what side he’s supposed to be on.

There are a couple of cute scenes in this, the most exciting of them is the last page, which leads to a hell of a cliffhanger, the revelation of another minor “run-off” villain, this one the creation of Larry Hama and Scott McDaniel and one of the most laughed-at of villains: Orca.

I’m not sure the cliffhanger will have much impact at all for a reader completely unfamiliar with her, and this is probably a pretty good example of DC’s reboot paradox, but it worked for me.

Patsy Walker, AKA Hellcat Vol. 2: Don't Stop Me-ow (Marvel Entertainment) So here’s the (a?) problem with Marvel’s Civil War II event series. It’s big enough that pretty much every extant Marvel comic ties into it, which means many of the currently ongoing Marvel series are now being released in collections in which the sub-title is “Civil War II” or the stories somehow relate to the events of Civil War II.

This presents something of a conundrum to us trade readers, as Civil War II itself hasn’t yet been published as a collection yet–Hell, thanks to publishing delays and after-solicitation decisions to expand the miniseries’ issue count, I don’t think Civil War II has been completed and published in comic book-comic format yet.

So, do we wait for that to happen before reading any of the trades containing tie-ins (that is, all of them), essentially taking a long break from reading Marvel comics…?

I have been assured by friends that one need not read Civil War II, or even know much about it’s dumb premise (Minority Report in the Marvel Universe, which sets the heroes all a-fightin’ again like it was 2006), as many of the tie-ins are, if not “red sky” style tie-ins, something awfully close.

That’s certainly the case with the Patsy Walker, AKA Hellcat tie-in. After just one of the six issues collected in this volume, in which Patsy’s Netflix buddy Jessica Jones and She-Hulk resolve her legal conflict with Hedy Wolfe, the off-page events of Civil War II knock the book out of whack.

Apparently, She-Hulk was badly hurt in that series, and is in a coma, taking her out of the Patsy cast, of which she was a major part of up until that point. Writer Kate Leth devotes an entire issue to Patsy thinking about their friendship and being sad about Shulkie, and, while the issue itself is good, it is pretty damn out-of-left field, and Shulkie’s terrible injury colors all the issues that follow.

It necessitates a shake-up of the cast, with X-Man Jubilee rather randomly joining Patsy’s business and replacing She-Hulk as Patsy’s recognizable Marvel Universe super-powered hero gal pal. There’s also a sort of pall of sadness hanging around the cast, as they worry about Shulkie and even occasionally question if they should be having as much fun as they sometimes do because of this big, dumb, sad thing happening somewhere else (The book is remarkably free of details regarding Civil War II, though; She-Hulk got put in a coma, James Rhodes is dead and everyone’s busy fighting each other is pretty much the sum total of Patsy's summary of Civil War II).

So this trade is a bit of a jumble as a reading experience. There’s one issue resolving the story arc that dominated most of the previous volume, one issue kinda sorta tying into Civil War II, two issues involving Hedy’s revenge on Patsy (in which she sics Patsy’s ex-husbands The Son of Satan and Mad Dog on her) and then two issues that begin but don’t complete a Hellcat vs. Black Cat story arc.

Leth and artist Brittney Williams continue to do a pretty good job playing with Charles Soule’s set-up from his short-lived She-Hulk title, centering on a building shared by such businesses as She-Hulk’s law firm, Howard The Duck’s private investigator’s business and now Patsy’s employment agency for super-powered people who don’t want to fight crime with their great powers (the supporting characters from the cancelled She-Hulk and the just-canceled/completed Howard The Duck appear repeatedly throughout).

I like how they embrace all of the silly-ass stuff that’s happened to Jubilee over the last few years, so now she’s not only a teenage X-Man, but she’s also a vampire and also raising a baby she basically just found and kept when she was in Europe during that first dumb arc of that dumb X-Men book (X-Men).

I actually don’t even know if Jubes still has her mutant powers or not, because she never once uses them here. She basically does all of her fighting hand-to-hand, and the only “power” she ever uses is a vampire one, which is to turn into a cloud of smoke and travel in that form. Williams draws her as a cloud of smoke wearing a pair of sunglasses and possessing a mouth. It’s awesome.

Other than Civil War II derailing the title and altering the collection’s mood (this is not a book built to do somber, and doesn't do it all that well), this is an all-around fine comic book, even if the collection doesn’t read as satisfyingly as it might have (On the plus side, Leth clearly isn’t writing for the trade, so there's that; if it weren't for Marvel's pricing, this might be the rare Marvel book that reads better in singles than trades).

Wait, one more complaint: Why does Black Cat have cat eyes over her boobs on her costume now? Did that change in one of the Spider-Man books, or is Williams responsible for that little redesign? Because I really kinda hate it.

Superf*ckers Forever #1 (IDW Productions) It’s a Christmas miracle!

Now, I obviously don’t understand the various factors that influence the way comic books move between their publishers and their distributor Diamond and my local comic shop, but I ordered this particular comic on the day it was released, and it just now arrived this week, the week that the fifth issue was released.

This first issue is probably the best of the series, which is kind of a good news, bad news situation. The good news is that while this is the fourth issue of the series I’ve read, it was the best reading experience so far. The bad news is that it means the work generated by James Kochalka’s return to his Superfuckers characters in this new format has been getting progressively weaker.

So this issue, and the series as a whole I guess, begins with the destruction of the universe and Vortex’s reluctant putting-of-it-back together. Then Jack Krak goes looking for his lost vagina, which is where he keeps his wieners, and he finds it in a perfectly positioned place for sight gags (Please note that Jack Krak’s vagina is not an actual vagina, but something he refers to as a vagina. And his wieners are hotdogs. Get your mind out of the gutter!).

The back-up story, by Jake Lawrence, is also maybe the best of the back-ups (so far). Entitled “Swear Jar,” it’s about Wonder Kyle’s creation of a swear jar that works completely differently than any swear jar you have heard of before. I bet it would be pretty effective at curbing swearing in real life, too!

Superfuckers #5 (IDW) This extra-priced flip-issue ($4.99 instead of the usual over-priced $3.99) includes a lot of comics: two 16-page, all-Kochalka stories and two back-up stories. So it’s pricey, but worth it.

There’s the fifth chapter of the ongoing Superf*ckers Forever saga, and, upside down and on the other side, Superf*ckers Save Christmas, in which Wonder Kyle tries and fails to teach Jack, Ultra Richard and Orange Lightning the true meaning of Christmas. Or anything about Christmas at all, really. Or even just something as basic as snow, come to think of it.

I liked the bit about Jack’s procuring a Christmas tree.

Superman #13 (DC) This is the second half of the Superman/Frankenstein story that began last issue, which has allowed artist Doug Mahnke to revisit the characters he re-created with Grant Morrison; not only Frankestein, but also The Bride.

The pair are both hunting an intergalactic alien war criminal for different reasons, and because their prey has replaced the editor at the Hamilton County newspaper that Lois “White” writes for, Lois and Superman get involved.

As becomes clear in this second half of the story, writers Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason are using the Frankenstein family to define the White family through contrast, as Frankenstein and the Bride fight against one another, and were torn apart by the loss of their son, while Lois and Superman fight together and, of course, still have their son.

It’s a fun little story, and a nice showcase for all of the characters involved. Plus, it’s always fun to see Mahnke draw Frankenstein; I’ve always loved that cool, apparently steam-powered locomotive-themed gun he carries.

Teen Titans Go #19 (DC) So the best part of this issue by far is, as is so often the case, Dan Hipp’s cover image. Beast Boy stands atop a pile of detritus featuring pieces of various DC characters, many of them from the movies, next to a tag reading “Beast Boy: The Last Boy On Earth?!

There’s a little Kamandi in the background reacting to the appropriation of his claim to fame, there’s a stealth Watchmen crossover (“Rorshach Was Here” is scrawled on the dead Cyborg’s chest, and there’s an adorable little bloody smiley face button, which Hipp makes look like an emoji) and, in the background, there’s a billboard advertising “The Terrible Trio! Live From Gotham!” which depicts a version of the Terrible Trio gathered around a microphone.

I didn’t like either of the two stories under the cover nearly as much. In one, Beast Boy acquires the power to smell the future, and he smells disaster (hence the cover image), and in the other, the Titans must help Beast Boy return his pet/friend herring to his home waters, and in the process they become embroiled in a battle between some orcs and the Secret Order Of The Herring.

*Have we seen Bronze Tiger since the reboot? I don't recall seeing him anywhere yet, and his absence from both the live-action Suicide Squad movie and the new, third iteration of that title since the reboot has been somewhat conspicuous. He was basically replaced in the film by Katana, and I guess the latest volume of the comic followed suit, as it's been trying to ape the film version of the Squad as closely as possible.

**I'm actually a little surprised we haven't seen these two show up before now. As a psychotic, clown-themed Bonnie and Clyde-style couple, they pre-figured The Joker and Harley Quinn as they appear in Suicide Squad: The Movie, and how Harley sometimes views her relationship with The Joker in the comics and the cartoons. That is, the way Punch feels about and treats Jewlee is basically the way Harley wished The Joker felt about and treated her. When she was in love with him, of course. They are currently on the outs.

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