Thursday, December 01, 2016

Comic Shop Comics: November 30th

Batman Annual #1 (DC Comics) I touched on this book in Comics Alliance's weekly preview column, but more detail wouldn't hurt, huh? As I noted there, this is something of a Christmas special, although David Finch's generic drawing of Batman posing doesn't do anything to allude to that fact other than include some snow. It's also an anthology, featuring five stories from some of the current Batman line's creators and some special guests.

The lead story was my favorite, despite the art. It's by regular Batman writer Tom King and original Batman artist David Finch, and tells the New 52/"Rebirth" origin of Ace, The Bathound. At just eight pages, it's basically just a cute story highlighting Alfred and Bruce's relationship. It also features a mention of Kite-Man, which means King has managed to work Kite-Man into three consecutive Batman stories in a row, which must be some kind of record (He was in the epilogue of "I Am Gotham," appeared in the Arkham scene of "I Am Suicide" and gets name-dropped here).

Finch's art is Finch's art, and beyond my own dislike of the style, it also just kinda generally falls down on the job of conveying visual information. Like, when Ace is first found, I suspect the art is meant to depict some kind of pit, as there's an indication in the dialogue that Ace (and three other dogs) couldn't climb out of it to run away and find food. But Finch draws a crater rather than a pit, one that is so shallow that the dogs could have easily left any time they wanted. I'm continually confounded by how far some artists get in their careers (drawing Batman regularly is a really big deal for a superhero artist, right?) without ever mastering the most basic of basics.

I wonder if we'll be seeing more of this Ace, and how he'll get along with Titus and the rest of Damian's menagerie?

That's followed by a short story by All-Star Batman writer Scott Snyder, working with occasional partner Ray Fawkes, and All-Star back-up artist Declan Shalvey. It highlights a technological achievement of Batman's, but it mostly dedicated to Batman receiving a rather welcome false alarm on a winter night.

Next up is a pairing by the biggest names involved, writer Paul Dini and artist Neal Adams, on "The Not So Silent Night of the Harlequin." It's a riff on the 1969 story "The Silent Night of the Batman" from Batman #219, which Adams penciled (Mike Friedrich wrote that one). Harley makes a reference to that story when Batman tells her he doesn't sing.

This is a weird one, in large part because of the weird disconnect between the Harley Quinn of Harley Quinn (this is that Harey) and the way she appears and has appeared in the the various Batman and Suicide Squad books over the last five years. It's also weird, of course, because its Adams, and while his is still one of the definitive portrayals of the character, he draws him here as he might have in the 1970s (this costume not only has brief on the outside, but the black bits are blue instead of gray, while Harley is in her initial New 52 look, despite living in Coney Island with her collection of weird friends) and gives him visible pupils in a few panels, which always freaks me out. Finally, the idea is that the spirit of Harley Quinn has galvanized various people in Gotham City to do good which, um, doesn't really jibe with the character at all...particularly as she's been portrayed in the Bat-books.

Two more to go!

Next? Writer Steve Orlando and Riley Rossmo, both of whom worked on the "Night of The Monster Men" crossover event I hope to review in full here shortly, collaborate on a story that ends with a box reading "End? The Stag Is Coming In 2017..." Presumably, this is a prequel story to something next year then. It involves a Gotham philanthropist who stages a winter wonderland thing for the children of Gotham, and gets attacked by Minister Blizzard. Minister Blizzard! The penultimate page has Duke handing a brooding Bruce Wayne a chocolate coin that Batwoman had Alfred make for them (she's Jewish, remember), and Batman does some obscure villain name-dropping: "I can punch Minister Blizzard or Lord Death-Man or Facade every time."

How obscure is Facade? I believe he's only had a single appearance, in 2006's Detective Comics #821, by artist J.H. Williams III and...Paul Dini. Huh. I wonder if Orlando knew Dini would be contributing to this annual...?

The final story is by writer Scott Bryan Wilson (doesn't ring a bell) and (the excellent) artist Bilquis Evely (Bombshells, Sugar & Spike). They do a fine job of packing a lot of story into a short space; it's only six-pages long, but thanks to some nine-panel pages it reads as long as anything else in this book, and as long as some entire issues of other comics, frankly.

Wilson introduces a new villain at an Arkham Asylum Christmas party (while re-introducing The Ventriloquist's Scarface back-up, Socko), and while Evely's design of the character is fine, I don't really like her super-power. She can kill someone through DNA, um, somehow, meaning that if she touches you she can kill you, or if she's touched a hair you've left somewhere or a nail-clipping or whatever, she can use that to kill you...? Somehow? It's a pretty random power, and few of Batman's villains (let alone the good ones) even have powers. Oh, and her name is "Haunter."

She is apparently friends with The Scarecrow, which is cool in that we get gingerbread-scented fear gas and a Scarecrow appearance here, but unfortunately it's the same generic Scarecrow design we've gotten consistently since the New 52 reboot: Just the bag over the head.

So like a lot of anthologies, this is a bit of a mixed bag, but there's enough good stuff in here that I imagine most any Batman fan will find some stuff to like (and, honestly, even the bad stuff is interesting).

Godzilla: Rage Across Time (IDW) This is the trade paperback collection of the five-issue miniseries which seems to be a companion series to Godzilla In Hell, at least in the sense that it is structured pretty much identically. That is, there's a premise stated in the title (a little more vaguely here, but it's basically Godzilla and his friends and foes in different time periods), and different creative teams tackle it each issue.

There's a very loose overarching structure here, more so than in Godzilla In Hell, involving a pair of crypto-archeologists who visit various sites around the world and posit that Godzilla must have been somehow involved in eruption of Pompeii or a 13th century Japanese battle or whatever. It's...fine, but few of the issues are terribly exciting all on their own, and those with the most compelling plots don't have the room to develop them.

For example, the second issue/chapter finds Godzilla in ancient Greece. Writers Chris Mowry and Kahlil Schweitzer spend a good deal of time on Mount Olympus, during which the Olympian gods bicker amongst themselves over the proper level of involvement with Earth, and argument that become moot when Godzilla attacks Olympus. Yes, that's right: Godzilla vs. Olympus. That's the kind of thing that could (should) get it's own miniseries, really, but here all we get is Godzilla taking out Poseidon in a few panels, kicking at the foot of Mount Olympus, battling a kaiju-sized hydra (did you know Godzilla's radioactive fire does not affect hydra neck-stumps in the same way that regular fire does? Me neither!) and then Zeus fights him with lightning powers for a little bit. For all intents and purposes, Godzilla might as well have been fighting Electro here. Reading it only made me want to read a whole graphic novel in which Godzilla fights the many monsters of Greek myth, some sort of mash-up of Toho kaiju and Classical mythology where various kaiju stand in for the Titans, or do battle with monsters like Cetus, Cyclopes and Typhon and/or various Greek heroes (I felt the same way about Godzilla in Hell too, though; there are certain Hells that an entire epic Godzilla narrative could have been built in, and it seemed a shame we only got hints at such potential stories).

The strongest of the stories is the one that appeared in the first issue, and was set in feudal Japan. Written by Jeremy Robinson and featuring art by Matt Frank, I thought it was the sole story that was just the right size, in terms of telling a compelling and complete story and doing pretty much all one might want such a story to do. Frank adopts the art to an era-appropriate style, and his Godzilla is pretty amazing. Robinson has invaders leading two evil kaiju to attack Japan, and a warring ninja and samurai must put aside their differences in order to find a mystical object and recruit a legendary Japanese monster to fight on their behalf. Unfortunately for them, Godzilla kills their monster immediately; fortunately, he also takes on the invaders' monsters (Gigan and Megalon, who are among the last two monsters who might seem appropriate for their setting...although their presence is rather neatly explained).

Following the Olympian story is one set in medieval England by writer Ryan Ferrier and artist Hugo Petrus. This one is actually Godzilla-free. It involves the slaying of a dragon amidst a plague, but the "dragon" isn't the title character, or even one of the more dragon-y Toho characters. Instead, it's Megaguirus (who I had to look up, as I haven't seen any films featuring him yet). The humans are able to defeat him by calling on the aid of Mothra, who for whatever reason is living in her final form in a temple in Europe, attended to by the fairies who are still dressed for the South Pacific. The leader of the crusaders refers to Mothra as an angel, which is kinda funny. I mean, she has wings, but that's about where the similarity stops.

Next, co-writers Ulises Farina and Erick Freitas and artist Pablo Tunica take us to "Classical Rome," but, more specifically, Hannibal trying to cross the Alps to get at Rome. How does he accomplish this? By irritating Godzilla into basically busting a passage through the mountains for them. The art is nice, and there's nothing wrong with the story, but at this point in the book it appears as if the creators are sticking Godzilla into history at random. I mean this story is just fine, but so too would be Godzilla sinking the Titanic or the Spanish Armada, fighting Paul Bunyan or digging the Panama Canal, you know?

Finally we get a weird chapter by Jay Fotos and JefF Zornow, who share a co-writing credit, while Fotos is credited with the script and Zornow with art. This is the quickest read of them all, owing to the fact that there's only a few pages with dialogue on it, but it's the wildest of the stories. What, precisely killed off the dinosaurs? A meteor? Well, there are indeed a lot of meteors falling, but all the kaiju fighting seems to take out more dinosaurs, and what few are left after the pages and pages of what appears to be much of Toho's character catalog brawling are wiped out by some flying saucers. They drop off a couple cave-people and say they'll be back later.

The archaeologists theorize that there were probably multiple Godzillas throughout history, but they really only offer a little connective tissue to the chapters. All in all, it's a fine if frustrating anthology, one that could conceivably go on for pretty much ever, with Godzilla and friend inserted into any dramatic historical event.

Jughead #11 (Archie Comics) This is the thrill conclusion of Ryan North and Derek Charm's Jughead/Sabrina story arc, which is heart-breaking, in that it means Ryan North and Derek Charm's Jughead/Sabrina story is now over, and it was the best. Seriously these last few issues of Jughead have probably been my very most favorite of any of the new Archie comics I've read, and some of my most favorite comics of the year, really.

Everything I said about the previous two issues applies here, pretty much. Sabrina and Salem save Jughead, Reggie and Hotdog from a gigantic monster while simultaneously hiding the existence of magic and witches from them. Then Sabrina and Jughead make amends and helps her solve her problems which, unfortunately, leads to her leaving the book...and Riverdale. Does this mean we will never get to see Charm's adorable depiction of Salem again? God, I hope not!

This issue also contained more usages of the phrase "cool teens" than anything I have ever read before, and it is better for it.

Saga #40 (Image Comics) Drugs are the worst, kids. Never, ever do them. That's the message I've gotten from Saga so far.

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