Sunday, January 29, 2017

Comic Shop Comics: January 25th

Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures #3 (IDW Publishing) This many years removed from Batman: The Animated Series, it's easy to forget what a devastatingly effective version of The Joker voice actor Mark Hamill and the show's producers had cooked up, probably the ultimate version of the character. I would imagine it had a lot to do with the character being bound to a kid's show; those involved might have been fans of the comics and been familiar with the darkest versions of the character, but still had to keep him after school cartoon-friendly, resulting in an all-ages, clown-themed homicidal maniac. No easy feat!

I was thinking about that Joker while reading this comic, because he and Harley Quinn share a scene with Nickelodeon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles version of The Shredder and his mutant gang, and it is probably the highlight of this issue. I could hear Hamill speaking Joker's lines clear as a bell...although that might have had something to do with having rather recently heard Hamill performing President Trump's tweets as The Joker.

He seems to be in the midst of performing a somewhat hostile takeover of The Foot, and writer Matthew K. Manning seems to be saving The Joker and/or The Shredder for the end of the crossover series. In the meantime, the Turtles and The Bats continue to fight Bat-villains who have made their way into the TMNT's NYC. So this issue opens with the characters battling Poison Ivy and Snakeweed, before briefly resting at the Turtles' sewer lair (Splinter plays an oddly understated role, for plot convenience's sake) and then splitting up to tackle two more threats: One team finds The Scarecrow, while the other a Foot-bot with a Joker-grin painted on it.

There were a few missed opportunities, I thought--teaming Robin and Raphael without a gag regarding wearing a big "R" seemed odd to me, almost as odd as The Joker trying to pull a joy-buzzer gag on The Shredder, whose hand-shake would be so obviously dangerous giving the blades on his hand--but this has been a surprisingly effective story so far.

Artist Jon Sommariva's art, as I've probably pointed out before, blends all of the original designs under his style, which works fine, although I can't help but wonder if there wasn't a more interesting, metaway to draw a book featuring a crossing-over of characters from two such stylistically different cartoon shows, separated as they are by decades. With this iteration of the TMNT fresh in my head and the Batman characters a nostalgic memory, the most fun has been seeing such very specific version of the Batman characters rejuvenated and thrown into the TMNT milieu.

As with the previous Batman/TMNT crossover, this isn't the Batman/TMNT comic I would have made or wished for, but I really like how this limited, specific scope sort of immunizes it from such wishing, in a way that the original did not.

Batman '66 Meets Wonder Woman '77 (DC Comics) Well, this is interesting. Batman '66 writer Jeff Parker teams with Wonder Woman '77 writer Marc Andreyko* and the excellent art team of David Hahn and Karl Kesel for a story that presents a very obvious problem right there in its title: How on Earth do you do a crossover featuring characters whose adventures are set in such extremely specific time periods?

Sure, time travel is the easiest answer, but Parker and Andreyko don't go least, not in the first twenty-some pages of the six-part series. In the "present" of 1966, Batman and Robin capture Catwoman (Eartha Kitt version) just after she robbed a man of a precious book and delivered it to her employer, a mysterious woman she knows only as Talia.

At the Batcave, Batman and Alfred tell Robin of the first time they encountered the purrr-loined book. It was back during the war, when Thomas and Martha Wayne were giving a charity auction at stately Wayne Manor. Some disguised Nazis and Ra's al Ghul and his League of Shadows had come for the book, and it was being protected by a trio of U.S. military officers, one of whom takes off her glasses, spins around and becomes Wonder Woman!

So the bulk of this issue is set in the original, 1940s setting of the Wonder Woman TV show, when Batman was just Bruce Wayne in prep school short-pants, Talia was a little girl he was going to show his toys too, Alfred still had black hair and there were Nazis running around the grounds of Wayne Manor. It's a real blast, and Andreyko and Parker are able to maintain the TV shows' spirit (although this rightly feels more like an episode of Batman than Wonder Woman, in turns of tone and sense of humor) while pulling off the sorts of things you could never have seen on either show.

I really like all of the creators involved and the main characters, so I was expecting to enjoy this, but I was really surprised that I liked it as much as I did.

Deathstroke #11 (DC) I was certainly expecting a good issue with this particular comic book, as writer Christopher Priest has produced 11 previous good issues (I'm counting the Rebirth special; I'm not that bad at math), and here he is paired with the incredible art team of Bill Sienkiewicz inking Denys Cowan (!!!). The subject matter? The return of Steve Ditko's The Creeper, now back in a more Ditko-esque form after...whatever they tried to do with the character during The New 52.

At least, that's what the subject matter appears to be from the cover, featuring as it does The Creeper fighting Deathstroke and the tagline "The Creeper Lives Again!"

The actual subject matter? Gun violence in America...specifically, the city of Chicago, as this apparently done-in-one story is entitled "Chicago." What is interesting about Priest's approach to the politically thorny (or, at least, politically thorny-if-you-listen-to-politicians-talk-about-it) issue is that this isn't exactly a "message" comics, like, say, Batman: Seduction of The Gun. Super-comics might lend themselves to messages, and while the title character does give his own, two-word solution when asked point-blank "What is th e solution to Chicago's gun violence...?", it's pretty clear that his dark, pithy reply is his of view, rather than Priest's. Many points of view are articulated by various characters throughout the issue, really.

In terms of the plot, Jack Ryder is now acting as something of an investigative journalist, and he is in Chicago following a peculiar story. It seems that a bunch of mothers who have lost children to Chicago's gun violence pooled their resources and managed to scrape together enough to hire Deathstroke in order to avenge the deaths by, you know, killing all their killers (Which is a lot of Chicago gang-members). A couple of things about it just don't strike Ryder right, however, and he's the character who essentially collects the viewpoints. This is a superhero comic that mediates upon American gun violence, rather than offers a serious prescription.

Notably, Deathstroke is sticking to knives and other weapons, rather than shooting his victims with guns, "it's like he's sending a message," one character says (Which made me think of the Taran Killam-written contribution to the recent Love Is Love anthology, in which Deathstroke is so sickened by the Orlando shooting that he throws all his guns away and says he's sticking to karate).

Ryder figures out exactly what's going on, but not without getting shot himself, which summons his yellow-er half. Priest is pleasingly coy about what's up with The Creeper these days, having him exposit aloud, "I've been...going through some changes... ...Don't understand them all... ...But I feel more like myself than I have in years!"

Great story--complex, relevant, challenging, efficient--and great art, as is usually the case, equals a great comic. Given that basic formula's simplicity, it's weird how infrequently publishers manage great comics.

Detective Comics #949 (DC) This issue seemingly concludes the two-part "Batwoman Begins" arc, co-written by regular Detective writer James Tynion and the writer of the imminent third volume of a Batwoman comic, Marguerite Bennett. It...doesn't bode well for Batwoman, really, as this was easily the least eventful, least interesting story of Detective's "Rebirth" era. After Batman and Batwoman investigated SHIELD's ARGUS' "Monstertown" research facility last issue, here the Bat-Squad's "Belfry" HQ is broken into by one of The Colony's lead agents, and then he gets defeated by the team's off-brand Danger Room. Meanwhile, there are a few flashbacks to Batwoman's post-Flashpoint origin, in which it is revealed that she figured out Batman's secret identity, like, so fast.

The superhero stuff is all pretty rote, and the origin business has the unfortunate task of having to be compared at point's to Batwoman's previous origin, which took place during 52, a series co-written by a handful of the genre's best writers. I quite enjoy Bennett's work elsewhere, most notably DC's Bombshells and Archie's Josie and The Pussycats, but those indulge in humor to varying degrees, while this business is as dour as usual.

Ben Oliver handles the art, and it's fine, but not interesting.

Given that this arc was supposed to lead in to Batwoman, and that the book is going to cost $3.99 instead of $2.99, I'm actually actively worried about the new book's prospects.

Lumberjanes #34 (Boom Studios) Okay yes, let's get this out of the way first: This particular issue of the series is relevant to my personal interests. It is apparently setting up a story arc in which the girls from Roanoke cabin team up with a group of yeti to challenge a group of sasquatches to a winner-take-all roller derby match over the fate of the former's rad tree house, which the latter are currently squatting in.

Despite my affection for yeti and sasuquatches, that is not the sole reason that I would declare this the best single issue of Lumberjanes I've read in pretty much ever, maybe since the first arc. It is just an all-around much more sharply-written issue than most of those that have preceded it, and there were a good half-dozen, maybe eight gags or panels that just really landed just right. Co-writers Shannon Watters and Kat Leyh might blow it in future issues of course--as I've noted repeatedly before, most Lumberjanes arcs seem to go on about one issue too many--but this issue at least is the strongest, and most promising, in a while. If you're a lapsed reader, or have yet to give Lumberjanes a try, this is probably a good issue to try (Despite the high number on the cover, all one really needs to know about Lumberjanes before starting any particular arc is that there is a group of girls at an all-girls summer camp in a woods where weird things are always happening there).

Saga #42 (Image Comics) At this point--42 issues and I have no idea how many years in--it should really come as no surprise when writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Fiona Staples rather mercilessly kill off one of their characters. They have never been shy about killing characters, no matter how central they might seem to the drama, no matter how likeable or how many readers love them, and one would expect readers to stop being surprised when a character dies. I mean, they even killed the character who was a ghost.

Hell, in this issue alone there are three on-panel deaths from fairly significant characters, plus the implication of many other characters dying. Only one of those three I would say I was particularly fond of personally, but nevertheless Vaughan and Staples render one of those deaths in perhaps the bleakest, most horrifying circumstances imaginable. It wasn't my own investment in the character or the character's fate that made the end of this issue so incredibly devastating, but the relative innocence of the character, and the futility of the character's final words and actions to stave off the eternal blackness, which they illustrate over the course of some seven minimally constructed, maximally effective pages (counting the inside back and back covers.

I may have read a more depressing comic book not based on true events before, but I'll be damned if I can remember it now.

Scooby-Doo Team-Up #22 (DC) In this issue, writer Sholly Fisch teams Scooby-Doo and the gang up with characters from the 1966-68 Frankenstein Jr. and The Impossibles, which split each episode down the middle, devoting one half to Frankenstein Jr. and boy inventor Buzz Conroy and the other to the superhero team who were also rock stars (I have no firsthand experience with the show, having never seen it; this is probably the first narrative to feature any of those characters that I've personally experienced before). Rather than his frequent collaborator Dario Brizuela, Fisch is here paired with Dave Alvarez and I'm afraid I didn't care for the art at all. It looks extremely faithful to the designs of the show/s, but it also looks offsomehow. There are no backgrounds and no incidental characters, the latter of which is pretty notable considering the story is set at a presumably crowded concert (On the first page, Alvarez draws outstretched hands in silhouette, and a handful of silhouettes behind the dancing forms of the Scooby and the gang, but that's it; while the crowd is mentioned, no individual member is ever seen).

More suspicious still, certain images repeat in obvious fashion, and others look like direct lifts from other cartoons: There's Godzilla from Hanna-Barbera's Godzilla, for example, and there's the pterodactyl from the opening of Johnny Quest. Late, a wolfman rather randomly shows up, and it's one from Scooby-Doo. Rather than drawn the art seems constructed on a computer, using samples of Hanna-Barbera cartoons. On the one hand, that's actually kind of clever, as it recalls the notoriously cheap studios always obviously cheap animating style (think of the background in any indoor scene of Fred Flinstone running for a moment), but I can't imagine that Alvarze means it as a sort of critique or homage, and eve if he did, the comic still feels oddly lifeless.

The premise of the episode is that Scooby and his human hangers-on are at an Impossibles concert when Frankenstein Jr. attacks, directed to do evil by one of he and Buzz's enemies. The Impossibles show up in their superhero identities to help Buzz regain control of Frankie, and everything gets sorted out by the end. Fisch has a decent gag in the middle here regarding the fact that the rock group The Impossibles and the superhero team The Impossibles each have three members that look like one another and one shows up right after the other leaves, but Fred and the girls ultimately conclude that they can't possibly be the same, as that's just too obvious.

Sixpack and DOgwelder: Hard Travelin' Heroz #6 (DC) I sometimes wonder if there is any major comic book writer as underappreciated as Garth Ennis. I mean, he hardly toils away in obscurity or anything, and he's gotten plenty of plum writing assignments, accolades, laudits, prizes and what have you for his work over the years, but all of that sometimes still seems out of proportion to just how good a comic book writer he is.

I mean, take this weird-ass, I-can't-believe-they-even-published-this miniseries, which is a sequel to his Section Eight, which was a spin-off to his Hitman. Paired with artist Russ Braun, Ennis returned to both a handful of the weirder characters from his Hitman run (and/or his earlier Demon, where Baytor originally hails from and, as the recently-released Demon Vol. 2 makes clear, was seemingly named simply for a single, climactic dirty joke) and John Constantine, who he wrote for a time in the pages of Vertigo's Hellblazer, as all comic book writers from the United Kingdom most apparently contractually do.

The title characters here are a delusional alcoholic and maybe the single most fucked-up character in mainstream comics (created with John McCrea and the late, great Steve Dillon), whose deal is that he welds dogs to people's faces. And, during the course of this series, the character finally gains the power of speech by--ugh--shoving his head up the ass of a dog's corpse and working it like a grotesque hand-puppet. So that's the kind of crass, junior high humor we're dealing with here and, in fact, this final issue even opens with a scene involving Constantine having just "copped off" with Guts, a sentient pile of organs, while Bueno Excellente does...whatever exactly it is he does (I never understood exactly what his fighting crime through the "power of perversion" meant, but then, I generally try not to think too hard about it, or to at least accept the euphemisms applied as literal, rather than actual euphemisms).

And yet Ennis still managed to make me care about these characters, or at least the title ones, and to even choke up a bit when one of their members gives his life to save the universe by welding the dog stars together (guess which one of the two does that). Seriously, when Dogwelder speaks his last words to Sixpack over the radio while going about his weird-ass cosmic work--"But you and I...were joined...on this journey...through life...Sixpack...You and I...were welded"--well I'll be damned if my heart didn't break a little for these guys (I suppose the knowledge that one of Dogwelder's creators recently passed away might have contributed).

If the fact that Ennis can make a reader as jaded and cynical as me feel actual emotions about characters like Dogwelder isn't evidence of the man's brilliance, then man, I don't know what is.

It's my understanding that Section Eight didn't sell great, and this sold even worse--I blame the weird spelling of the title and the asterisks as swear words, personally--so I can't imagine this will lead to Section Eight: Rebirth #1 or another six issues of Ennis taking the piss out of the current DC Universe, but hell, I would buy whatever DC publishes from Ennis next. Given how regularly the publisher has relaunched their John Constantine title in the last five years, maybe DC should hire Ennis to write the New 52/Rebirth Constantine for a while, with a particular focus on parody and piss-taking, rather than the serious drama of his original Constantine comics. Like he does here, where Constantine wears an astronaut helmet and carries a flying surfboard and laser gun with him at all times, only maybe with the parody dialed down from 111 to say, 9.

Anyway, read this in trade if you missed it serially. It will honestly answer every question you've ever had about Dogwelder...although I suppose chances are you don't actually have any questions about Dogwelder, given how self-explanatory his name is.

Suicide Squad #10 (DC) Regular writer Rob Williams gets an assist from co-writer Si Spurrier for a kinda sorta epilogue for the big Justice League Vs. Suicide Squad crossoever event (which I will review at too-great length soon-ish, I swear). It delves into Amanda Waller's personal life a bit, so your mileage will likely vary, but I feel fairly confident in saying I don't think too many readers of Suicide Squad are primarily interested in Waller's family life.

Rustam, one of the handful of threats loose in the DCU due to Waller's machinations in the crossover, threatens Waller's family, in his own bit of overly-complicated, manipulative revenge. It's convenient for Waller that he doesn't just kill them, or kill her, but I suppose it's more convenient still for the writers. Regardless, this is mostly a pissing match between Waller and Rustam, with a few panels of Deadshot, Harley, Boomerang and Killer Croc...and maybe one panel of Rick Flag...?

I can see the wisdom of taking a breather issue after a big event, but, at the same time, I wonder if this isn't too low-key, as it doesn't seem likely to hang on to any new readers who might have started reading Suicide Squad simply because of the event. The unusual format, featuring about 12-pages of a serially-told stories and then eight pages or so of origin stories as back-ups, has made this a very weird book since the beginning though, so this and the previous issue's return to full-length stories make the issues feel not being as weird as usual.

Teen Titans #4 (DC) Writer Ben Percy is still working on this particular iteration of the team's origin story, and here Robin Damian Wayne gets the most attention, as he attempts to save his fellow Titans-to-be by surrendering to Ra's al Ghul and promising to stay with him. Ra's has other things in mind, and Damian's newfound refusal to kill his opponents leads to his being defeated and imprisoned. Luckily he just made friends with a handful of super-powered young people, who can swoop in to save him next issue!

Wonder Woman #15 (DC) Props to artist Liam Sharp, whose cover on this issue I at first mistook for the work of former Wonder Woman cover artist Brian Bolland. The interior art is just as solid, with a few cool, stylistic flourishes with the format. The title character is currently in the sort of mental hospital I didn't know existed outside of Gotham City anymore--complete with straight jackets and padded cells--so much of the panel-time belongs to the extensive supporting cast, including Wonder Woman's mom and her adversaries.

At this point, writer Greg Rucka has completed the first arc of his story set now as well as his "Year One" arc, but the plan going forward seems to be that alternating issues will continue to jump back and forth between the two time periods. To that end, Dr. Minerva here mentions a groups she used to be a part of a long time ago that may have something to do with Wondy and the gang's current troubles, and it seems that the next issue will be dedicated to telling that story. In other words, Rucka is intertwining two narratives separated by years, to the point that one rather directly informs the other. It's pretty clever, really, and it will be interesting to see how he meets the plotting challenge he's setting up for himself.

One unfortunate aspect, however, is that we're 15 issues into the series, 16 if you count the Rebirth one-shot special, and we still don't know what Wonder Woman's real origin is. That is kind of important, if for no other reason that DC launched Odyssey of the Amazons this week, a miniseries about some Amazons set long before Diana's birth/creation...but isn't the whole point of Rucka's current Wonder Woman that no one, not even Diana, knows which parts of her many origins are really true? Given that her origins involve alternate histories for her people, it's weird for DC to be doing an in-continuity story featuring Amazon history when it apparently hasn't yet been settled.

*Who, thanks to the background art in a panel of Brian Michael Bendis' Fortune & Glory I still can't think of without also thinking of a bit of the human body and of two particular adjectives applied to it.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Marvel's April previews reviewed

Well I guess it's safe to assume that The Inhumans do not end up winning their little war with the X-Men, based on the fact that April 2017 is apparently "Ressurexion" month at Marvel, with the X-Men line of books being relaunched, and The Inhumans reduced to a single book which, notably, is entitled Royals rather than Inhumans. Perhaps Marvel finally realized that The Inhumans were, like "fetch," never going to happen...?

What will happen in April? Click here to find out; or, for a highly-curated look at what Marvel plans to publish in April (i.e. the handful of books I have something to say about), just read on...

• FROM THE STARS COMES DEATH! An alien ship! A dying passenger!
• Two words uttered that will forever change WOLVERINE’s life — starting a non-stop race against a deadly transformative disease, a battle in a quarantined city and a mysterious villain with a target on her head.
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Oh man, I hope the dying passenger in that alien ship is Abin Sur, and he's got a ring for Laura!

One of the most controversial characters in comics has returned — and the controversy has only BEGUN! In the aftermath of THE CLONE CONSPIRACY, Ben has a new take on life…and he’s not the same Scarlet Spider he was before. Come witness what will be the most talked about comic of the year!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

I always liked the name Scarlet Spider name, and found his costume somewhat...intriguing, is maybe the best word. Like, the midriff-baring, sleeveless hoddie worn over the all-red Spider-Man suit didn't work, but I did think the suit itself was pretty okay. This...this I don't really like that much. Is a hood really that important? His head is already entirely encased in a mask, after all.

I find the title of this particular book pretty interesting too; is "Ben Reilly" really a bigger draw than "Scarlet Spider"....? Are there people who might conceivably be interested in a Ben Reilly-as-the-Scarlet Spider book who wouldn't automatically assume a book entitled "Scarlet Spider" would be starring Ben Reilly? Did Marvel dilute the brand too much by having the names used in other places before?

That's a pretty strong Spider-Man-related creative team, although I can't imagine reading this book, now that there have been multiple clone sagas...

Black Panther: The Crew #1
Black Panther, Storm, Luke Cage, Misty Knight and Manifold band together to take on a dangerous wave of street-level threats in this new ongoing series by co-writers Ta-Nehisi Coates (New York Times best-selling author of Between the World and Me and Marvel’s Black Panther) and Yona Harvey (Black Panther: World of Wakanda) and legendary artist Butch Guice!
The death of a Harlem activist kicks off a mystery that will reveal surprising new secrets about the Marvel Universe’s past and set the stage for a big story in the Marvel Universe’s near future.
Fear, hate and violence loom, but don’t worry, The Crew’s got this: “We are the streets.”
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

And here I thought publishing a second Black Panther title was pushing it! Sure, why not a third one?

I liked Marvel's 2003, Christopher Priest-written The Crew series, although now I can't remember if it was quickly canceled or if it was always meant to be a miniseries, but this particular line-up doesn't seem too incredibly cohesive to me. Certainly not as cohesive and appealing as the one that starred in that previous Crew series, or that sort of implied "Black Avengers" that Reginald Hudlin more-or-less assembled during his Black Panther run, back when it was easier to imagine BP and Storm hanging out, seeing as they were married and all.

That's the Damion Scott variant cover above (obviously); while Guice is a fine artist, I do wish Scott were handling interiors in addition to that one cover. In fact, if Scott were drawing it, I probably would consider reading it.
Sir Isaac Newton betrayed the rest of the Sorcerers Supreme, and has come to the present-day…where he takes on the Avengers!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

I do hope that guy on the far left isn't supposed to be Sir Isaac Newton. If he's not going to be wearing his big old wig, what's the point of even putting Sir Isaac Newton in your superhero comic? Jeez.

BEATING LAS VEGAS! While ELEKTRA has tried to lie low, she’s managed to capture the attention of the up-and-coming kingpin, ARCADE…and now he’s captured her! However, ELEKTRA hasn’t forgotten her past as an assassin, or any of the skills she’s learned. Will it be enough to defeat ARCADE and escape his clutches? Or will she play right into his hand?
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

I don't like all of the comics he appears in, but I kind of love the idea of Arcade. He's basically just an assassin, right? Who kills his victims--or, these being superhero comics, tries and fails to kill his victims more often than not--in the most ridiculously expensive ways possible. Like, why use a gun or poison when you could invent and build a half-dozen robots, and maybe retrofit a two and a half acre industrial park for the scene of the crime?

Anyway, I saw the phrase "up-and-coming kingpin" there, I got kind of excited, thinking about Arcade as being one of Marvel's big kingpins of crime...

• When one of the galaxy’s greatest bounty hunters targets the Guardians of the Galaxy, it’s lights out for STAR-LORD, GAMORA, DRAX, ROCKET and GROOT!
• But if DEATH’S HEAD can make their dreams come true, will the Guardians fight back, or go along with his crazy plan?
• They might…especially if it leads to the destruction of THANOS once and for all!
• Also included – a special presentation of GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (1990) #1, featuring the first appearance of Taserface!
48 PGS./ONE SHOT/T …$3.99

Don't ask me why, but some small part of me always gets excited when I hear the name Death's Head.

Also, while I have no idea who Taserface is, I do find the phrase "Featuring the first appearance of Taserface!" oddly appealing. I think it's the exclamation point that does it; like, seeing the first appearance of someone named Taserface is a terribly exciting thing.

From acclaimed writer CULLEN BUNN, known for his work on DEADPOOL, UNCANNY X-MEN and more, comes a high-action sci-fi series centered on a team of monstrous and monstrously massive do-gooders including KID KAIJU, AEGIS, SLIZZIK, SCRAGG, HI-VO AND MEKARA.. Now teaming up with vampire-hunter ELSA BLOODSTONE, the series unfolds as the team takes on gargantuan creatures and protects the planet from ruin and disaster. However, can they be accepted by the rest of the Marvel Universe and allowed to help, or will they be deemed dangerous as well?
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99

So I guess Marvel's not going to wait and see how well their Monsters Unleashed crossover event series does before green-lighting an ongoing series based on it, huh? Well, their last monster-centric ongoing didn't go over too terribly well with their audience (Howling Commandos), so best of luck with this, I guess. If nothing else, it should provide a great use of Arthur Adams' monster-drawing skills if they keep him on covers for the whole run.

I like this Punisher cover by Declan Shalvey.

A myth from the future. A quest to the far stars. A legend written across galaxies. Guided by the other-dimensional Kree warrior known as Marvel Boy, the Inhuman Royal Family departs on an odyssey across all creation on search for lost secrets — and the last hope — of their people.
Penned by fan-favorite Al Ewing (The Ultimates, New Avengers, Loki: Agent of Asgard) and drawn by the white-hot Jonboy Meyers (Teen Titans, Spawn), ROYALS is a Marvel-style space epic that takes the Inhuman Royal Family and plunges them into the unknown! The knowledge they seek could change the course of Inhuman destiny, but it cannot be attained without cost…for at the end of days, the Last Inhuman tells the tale of how seven left Earth for the stars…but only six returned.
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

I was going to ask which Marvel Boy the were talking about, but it looks like it is a ratehr massivbvely bulked-up version of the Grant Morrison/J.G. Jones Marvel Boy, who had a pretty rough time of things between their millennial miniseries introducing him and his appearance in the last iteration of Young Avengers

Reprinting New Mutants (1983) #1
32 PGS./Rated T …$1.00

Okay, help me out here--Who's the dog?

• Worst-mentor-ever Melissa Morbeck has trapped Squirrel Girl in her house, surrounded by zoo animals under her control, and laid out her demands: She wants to have…A CHAT.
• Does that not sound exciting enough? What if we were to tell you that this chat ALSO involves punching, shocking revelations, a little bit of cool computer stuff and MACHINE-GUN-WIELDING BEARS, who are as extremely cute as they are extremely deadly??
• Squirrels AND machine-gun bears, all in the same comic?! That’s right. Only SQUIRREL GIRL gives you what you want, assuming you have those two very particular interests!!
• Hopefully you do; we’ve got a lot riding on this.
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99

Squirrels may be an acquired taste, but I don't know anyone who likes super-comics who doesn't like the thought of "MACHINE-GUN-WIELDING BEARS."

Hopefully there is 1-37 jokes about the right to bear arms/arm bears.

FROM THE ASHES OF INHUMANS VS X-MEN, AN ALL-NEW TEAM OF X-MEN RISES! Xavier’s dream comes full circle as KITTY PRYDE takes the reins and assembles a squad of the most iconic X-Men to fight at her side. STORM. COLOSSUS. NIGHTCRAWLER. OLD MAN LOGAN. PRESTIGE. They are X-MEN GOLD! And they’re on a mission to be Earth’s finest heroes, even when that means defending those who hate and fear them. Brought to you by an all-star creative team of Marc Guggenheim (X-MEN, S.H.I.E.L.D., television’s Arrow) and Ardian Syaf (BATGIRL, SUPERMAN/BATMAN, BRIGHTEST DAY), a new beginning for the strangest heroes of all starts here!
40 PGS./Rated T+ …$4.99

"Prestige"...? Ugh.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

DC's April previews reviewed

You may start your cancellation!

So the big news this month is that DC is raising the price of all of their formerly $2.99 monthly comics to $3.99, which is the over-inflated price that Marvel has been selling their books at for years now (and most of the direct market publishers have followed suit; I think DC and Image are the only ones still publishing $2.99 books, but I could be wrong).

Normally I would be gnashing my garments and rending my teeth, so full of rage and unable to think straight enough to remember what gets gnashed and what gets rent, at such news. But since DC's "Rebirth" initiative switched the publishing schedule of so many of their comics to bi-monthly, most of the DCU titles I'm currently reading regularly will be unaffected.

Just a second here...

Okay, so it looks like at the moment I am reading nine DCU books that aren't All Star Batman (which has always been $4.99, given its bigger page-count). Of those, only Teen Titans will see a price increase, so it looks like I'll only be dropping one of those nine books (I can always catch up with the adventures of Damian Wayne and his new, press-ganged pals in trade paperbacks borrowed from the library).

These are the books getting price-increased: Batgirl, Batgirl and The Birds of Prey, Batman Beyond, Batwoman, Blue Beetle, Cyborg, Hellblazer, New Super-Man, Red Hood and The Outlaws, Supersons, Supergirl, Superwoman, Teen Titans, Titans and Trinity.

DC is offsetting the price increase by including digital copies or whatever, which is what Marvel used to do and just stopped doing, if I understand this business correctly (and having always ignored digital comics, there's no reason to believe I do). Even still, I imagine this announcement could be translated into "DC Comics Announces the Cancellation of Cyborg."

I can't see how this can possibly help any of these books in the not-that-long long term, although I suppose for the immediate future (like, a few months) it means they will be able to generate a bit more money as their readerships gradually abandon them.

A few of those books appeared to be on their way out anyway, like Cyborg and Superwoman (New Super-Man's sales estimates look pretty poor too, but I am imagining that writer Gene Luen Yang's involvement will make that a success in the trade market, whatever Wednesday readers think of it; I like the writing and dislike the art, personally). Others, like Hellblazer, Blue Beetle and Red Hood, DC keeps canceling and relaunching, in spite of their audiences' ongoing refusal to read those books in sufficient numbers.

The book I honestly feel bad about here is Batwoman, which was already going to have an uphill climb. Given the impression that it's original creative team made, it seems that fans of the Batwoman comic book aren't exactly primed to embrace the work of a creative team that differs so greatly from that of J.H. Williams III and/or Greg Rucka. The creative team is okay, Margeurite Bennett's Bombshells Batwoman is pretty great, but I think the monthly was always going to be a bit of a hard sell, and this will just make it harder.

Well, that and Supersons, which I've really been looking forward too.

I'm a little bummed to see Supergirl, Batgirl and Teen Titans in here, as those are all books I think DC should always be publishing and always be as accessible as possible, even though I'm not reading those first two (they were mediocre, which isn't good enough with all this competition).

I'm surprised DC's still publishing a Batman Beyond comic, and was fairly shocked with how poor the first story arcs of Titans and Batgirl and The Birds of Prey were. I just don't think you can do a book featuring the characters in Titans given the current state of the shared-setting DCU (and I suspect a large part of that book's continued existence involves readers interested in DC's cosmic continuity-altering mega-story), and the new BOP is just really, really badly written (That's why DC apparently passed on the Burnside-based BOP that was set up in the pages of Batgirl? Well, probably that and the fact that James Tynion had plans for Harper Row and Spoiler elsewhere...)

Anyway, let's see what else DC has in store for readers in April, aside from those price increases, shall we?

Written by SCOTT SNYDER • Art and cover by AFUA RICHARDSON
“Ends of the Earth” finale! It all comes down to this. After months of searching, Batman has found the mastermind behind the blight sweeping the planet, and must face off against one of his most dangerous villains in a battle of wills for the fate of the Earth.
On sale APRIL 12 • 40 pg, FC, $4.99 US • RATED T

It's not Mister Freeze for the whole "Ends of the Earth" arc, then? Huh.

Well, if it's a disease sweeping the planet, then that sure makes it sound like Ra's al Ghul is behind it, as that's sort of his MO, but I honestly hope it's not Ra's.

I know Snyder has barely written Ra's, and I think the only time he may have done so was in the pages of Batman Eternal, when Snyder and James Tynion were basically just crossing off everyone's guesses for who was behind it all, but I am personally kind of sick of Ra's, having seen so damn much of him and his daughter and organization in the pages of Batman and Robin and Robin: Son of Batman and now Teen Titans.

Ra's al Ghul could really use a vacation, a cooling off period like they gave The Joker and Two-Face in order to make his appearances seem more special.

Written by TOM KING • Art and cover by JASON FABOK
“THE BUTTON” part one! The cataclysmic events of DC UNIVERSE: REBIRTH #1 continue here! The Dark Knight and The Fastest Man Alive, the two greatest detectives on any world, unite to explore the mystery behind a certain blood-stained smiley button embedded in the Batcave wall. What starts as a simple investigation turns deadly when the secrets of the button prove irresistible to an unwelcome third party—and it’s not who anyone suspects! It’s a mystery woven through time, and the ticking clock starts here!
On sale APRIL 19 • 32 pg, FC
Lenticular cover edition $3.99 US
Nonlenticular edition, international edition and variant edition each $2.99 US • RATED T

Well, this is a bit of a surprise. I imagined that when DC finally addressed the events of DC Universe: Rebirth in a direct fashion it would be in some big event series by Geoff Johns.

It looks like there's at least one more stop on the way to finally explaining what the fuck has been going on with the DC Universe and it's fucked-up continuity over the course of the last 5+ years though. It's kinda cool that they are addressing this within the pages of the regular Batman and Flash books though, although I honestly can't imagine what would actually fill some 80-pages worth of comics. I mean, Batman found a smiley-faced pin with some blood on it embedded in the wall of the Batcave. Okay. And I guess he determined it maybe came from an alternate dimension somehow. Then what, exactly?

I suppose much of it will depend on who the "unwelcome third party" is; it better not be Ozymandius or Rorschach, because that's who everybody suspects. Maybe Seymour?

Three quick thoughts:

1.) That button looks huge. Is it just the way Batman is holding it, or is this a very large button? Maybe everything in the Watchmen-iverse is scaled larger than it is in the DC Universe....?

2.) Did you notice that they called Batman, The World's Greatest Detective and The Flash, The Fastest Man Alive, "the greatest detectives on any world"...? I wonder what The Elongated Man and Detective Chimp have to say about Barry Allen being one of the greatest detectives in the world...Oh wait, I'm sorry, on any world. Also, Sherlock Holmes.

3.) The blood on that button still hasn't dried? Jeez.

Written by DAN JURGENS • Art and cover by BERNARD CHANG
“RISE OF THE DEMON” part two! As Terry McGinnis considers whether or not to take a break from being Batman, Gotham City Police H.Q. is overrun by a horde of ninjas. The League of Assassins has launched a full-out assault on the city and CurarĂ©, leaving Terry no choice but to jump into the fray. What news does CurarĂ© bring that makes her a target for death?
On sale APRIL 26 • 32 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED T

The Demon, The League of Assassins...

See? More Ra's al Ghul!

I'm not a statue guy, and would never pay actual money for any of these things, but I thought I should highlight this month's offering in the Batman Black and White line of collectible statuary, as it features Norm Breyfogle's Batman, which in my humble opinion is the best Batman.

Written by SCOTT SNYDER and STEVE ORLANDO • Art and cover by RILEY ROSSMO • Variant cover by TIM SALE
Two of history’s greatest vigilantes are reunited at last! Murder has come to Gotham City, and Lamont Cranston appears to be the culprit…but he’s been dead for over fifty years! Batman will go to the ends of the Earth to unravel the mystery of Cranston’s life, but the mysterious Shadow will do everything in his power to stop him from learning too much…

The superstar team of writers Scott Snyder and Steve Orlando and artist Riley Rossmo brings you a dark and twisty modern noir like nothing you’ve seen before, with a brand-new villain unlike any either hero has faced! This is the unmissable crime series of 2017, so get on board now! Co-published with Dynamite.
On sale APRIL 26 • 32 pg, FC, 1 of 6, $3.99 US • RATED T

Huh. I was pretty surprised to see this, mostly because it seems like something that would be a big enough deal to both DC and Dynamite that it would have been announced previously but, if it was, I totally missed it somehow.

I say this is a big deal, and I say that more because it's more Snyder-written Batman, rather than because it involves a crossover of some kind with The Shadow (I note it says "reunited," so I assume they have crossed paths before; was that when DC was publishing Shadow comics?). I'm really glad to see that Riley Rossmo is doing the art, too. Rossmo is a great artist, and been getting decent DC gigs of late, but mostly just an issue or so at a time. Hopefully this will be the big showcase Rossmo needs to get him all the attention his work deserves.

This is a pretty good example of a comic with a variant cover strategy that makes me want to wait for the trade though. Like, why buy a Batman/Shadow comic without a Tim Sale drawing of Batman and The Shadow now, when you could just wait six months and get the whole series with the Sale drawing or drawings, you know?

Oh look, there's Ra's al Ghul again, this time on the cover of the Batman'66 and Wonder Woman '77 crossover.

The fight of the century is on! But it’ll take more than muscle for Batman and Wildcat to shut down a secret superhuman fighting ring that’s killing its combatants! Two of the DC Universe’s greatest fighters go head to head in these slobberknockers from BATMAN/WILDCAT #1-3, CATWOMAN/WILDCAT #1-4 and THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #88, 97, 110, 118 and 127.
On sale MAY 17 • 280 pg, FC, $24.99 US

Weird. I was literally just talking about this comic, as my friend and I have been struggling to get through an IDW collection of writer Beau Smith's original, horribly-drawn Wynonna Earp comics (They are the worst). When discussing what else Smith has written, the Batman/Wilcat comic was one of the first that came to mind, and I wondered what that would read like today. I guess I can find out in a few months!

The Dark Knight stories tying into ZERO HOUR are now collected in their entirety. Time is collapsing upon itself! The villainous Extant has ushered in a series of black holes that are swallowing the universe, past, present and future! And like everyone else in the DC Universe, the Bat-family has seen time loops affect their lives. The result? The return of Barbara Gordon, Batgirl! Collects BATMAN #0 and 511, BATMAN: SHADOW OF THE BAT #0 and 31, DETECTIVE COMICS #0 and 678, CATWOMAN #0 and 14, BATMAN: LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT #0 and ROBIN #0 and 10.
On sale MAY 31 • 272 pg, FC, $24.99 US

This is a fun collection. I know fan reaction to Dan Jurgens' Zero Hour was mixed (I liked it), but many of the tie-in comics were excellent, as they basically just gave the regular creative team of every DC Comic an excuse to tell a 22-page story having pretty much anything at all to do with time travel, so we got Robin Tim Drake teaming up with Robin Dick Grayson, a previous iteration of Alfred showing up trying to fight crime, a hale and hearty Batgirl facing a post-Killing Joke Batman, Jim Balent drawing Ka-Zar on the cover of Catwoman and so on.

The other cool thing about Zero Hour is that it rebooted the DC Universe's history, but only technically. In brief, Parallax Hal Jordan un-created almost all of creation and was going to recreate it in a controlled fashion, but Superman and a handful of survivors managed to stop him at the dawn or time and re-start the universe with their own, un-controlled new big bang that put the DCU more or less back in order, save for the usual problem children like Hawkman, The Legion of Super-Heroes, Donna Troy and so on, while giving in-universe cover to any tweaks any creators might have wanted to make then and there. The result of this was that at the series' conclusion, every DC series got a new #0 issue (with neat, metallic ink on the cover!) that was essentially an origin story, although set in the current DCU (that is, they weren't literally starting over). It was a month of great jumping-on points. I don't think there was a single #0 issue I didn't enjoy, although I certainly didn't read them all.

I haven't read all of these particular comics, though I read most of them. I'm drawing a blank on the contents of the Catwoman, for example. There was probably a Smilodon in there somewhere.

While they are all pretty high quality, I suppose they are mostly irrelevant now (Zero Hour was like three or four reboots of varying degrees ago)...aside from capturing the characters as they stood at that particular time period, and, of course, showcasing all of the great talent working on the Batman line at the time (I notice few if any of those artists are seen anywhere near Batman anymore, for example; the LDK issue, by the way, features a Joe Quesada cover and is something of a jam issue, with contributions from artists as various as Tim Sale, Mike Zeck, Ted McKeever, John Watkiss and Phil Winslade).

One notable absence? Superman: The Man of Steel #37 by Louise Simonson, Jon Bogdanove and Dennis Janke:
As you can see by the cover, though technically a Superman comic, the time-travel weirdness Simonson chose to go with was throwing a flock of Batmen from different eras and realities at the Man of Steel. Go on, study Bogdanove's cover, see if you can place all those bats...!

I suppose it's possible that this will be followed by a Superman: Zero Hour trade, though, as at the time the Superman line was about the same size as the Batman one (There were four Superman books, and Superboy and Steel both had their own books).

Vampire Batgirl, Enchantress, Ravager, Killer Croc and Frankie join together to form the all-new Suicide Squad in this special extra-size issue! After the events of the Bombshells Annual, follow them on their first mission into an underwater Nazi submarine to rescue Vampire Batgirl’s long lost lover, Luc!
On sale APRIL 5 • 48 pg, FC, $4.99 US • RATED T • DIGITAL FIRST

Oh cool, it's the Bombshells-iverse's Suicide Squad! I liked those guys.

And there's Ra's al Ghul again, this time on the cover of Detective Comics.

Written by GERARD WAY
Backup story art by BRANDON BIRD
How have you been, Niles Caulder? The Chief is back, and he’s ready to reshape the new Doom Patrol to be just like the old Doom Patrol—a prospect not everyone is happy with. But the team’s former leader hasn’t grown less manipulative in his old age, so nobody make any rash decisions. Pretty sure he’s up to something. Michael Allred (iZOMBIE, Silver Surfer) joins Young Animal for this special one-off issue.
On sale APRIL 26 • 32 pg, FC, $3.99 US • MATURE READERS

Please be advised of the presence of Mike Allred.

That is all.

Well, and I suppose it's noteworthy that Brandon Bird has a back-up in this issue, which would have been slightly more surprising and exciting if I didn't know he also had a back-up of sorts in this week's issue of Doom Patrol.

“THE GREEN IMPURITY” part two! Following the events of JUSTICE LEAGUE VS. SUICIDE SQUAD, Polaris strikes! The two Earth Green Lanterns are caught between the two warring personalities of the Master of Magnetism.
On sale APRIL 5 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

"The Master of Magnetism"...? Is Doctor Polaris legally allowed to call himself that? Magneto didn't trademark that phrase?

Written by AMANDA CONNER and JIMMY PALMIOTTI • Backup story written by PAUL DINI and JIMMY PALMIOTTI • Art by JOHN TIMMS • Backup story art by BRET BLEVINS • Cover by AMANDA CONNER
“Deadly Sin” part one! The twisted Harley Sinn’s been released from prison, and she’s looking to hurt Harley in a whole new way…by going after somebody she loved and lost! And to make this issue extra-unmissable, a brand-new backup story begins, set in Harley’s earliest days with the Joker—and co-written by one of Harley’s original creators, Paul Dini! “Harley Loves Joker” kicks off as Harley makes the biggest mistake of her burgeoning criminal career…accidentally revealing the location of Mistah J’s hideout!
On sale APRIL 5 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T+

Written by JIMMY PALMIOTTI and AMANDA CONNER • Backup story written by PAUL DINI and JIMMY PALMIOTTI • Art by JOHN TIMMS • Backup story art by BRET BLEVINS • Cover by AMANDA CONNER
“Deadly Sin” part two! How can Harley protect somebody who’s vanished into witness protection? Unfortunately, Harley Sinn has a lead that she doesn’t! And in “Harley Loves Joker” part two, Harley tries to make it up to her puddin’ after her colossal blunder—but The Joker’s wrath is not easily soothed!
On sale APRIL 19 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T+

It looks like Harley Quinn creator Paul Dini is going to be writing some Harley Quinn comics for DC again. That's cool; I like his version of the character a lot more than Palmiotti and Conners (although he will be co-writing with Palmiotti), and Dini deserves to get in on some of that Harley Quinn money, as his co-creation is making a lot of other folks a lot of money these days.

Dini's back-ups are going to be drawn by Bret Blevins, an excellent artist who is one of those whose work will be in that Batman: Zero Hour know, the guys I said you don't see drawing any Batman related comics anymore...?

Written by GENE LUEN YANG • Art and cover by VIKTOR BOGDANOVIC
“COMING TO AMERICA” part two! Superman meets Super-Man! As the battle with China White and Lex Luthor intensifies, the Man of Steel steps in to settle things once and for all. Can the combined might of three supermen turn the tide? Don’t miss the fate of Central City’s own Avery Ho, repercussions from the “Superman Reborn Aftermath” story in ACTION COMICS, and a new member of the Justice League of China!
On sale APRIL 12 • 32 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED T

I'm going to take a wild guess here and say the new member of the Justice League of China is going to be a Flash. But wait, where will they put a hyphen in The Flash? All the Justice Leaguers of China have hyphens! Super-Man, Bat-Man, Wonder-Woman...will she be The-Flash? Fl-ash?

“The Rise of Aqualad” finale! Out of the depths of the San Francisco bay rises King Shark, backed by an army of mutant shark-people! Outnumbered and out…teethed, can Damian, the Teen Titans and their new ally Jackson Hyde defend their city from the jaws of disaster?
On sale APRIL 26 • 32 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED T

When it comes to leading an army of mutant shark-people, wouldn't The Shark be a better shark-man DC Comics supervillain than King Shark? Just saying.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Comic Shop Comics: January 18th

Archie #16 (Archie Comics) This is a sort of weird issue, in that it just barely advances the book's ongoing plot at all, instead devoting much of its page count to focusing on secondary characters Dilton, Moose and Reggie, the first two of whom have barely appeared in Archie since the relaunch, but all three of them have received attention in the other new Riverdale books (Hell, Reggie has his own book now).

This issue is also sans a back-up, instead running the same multi-page ad that ran in last week's issue or Jughead. Shame, Archie Comics, shame!

Batman #15 (DC Comics) Writer Tom King and Mitch Gerards conclude their two-part "Rooftops" story about the weird relationship between Batman and Catwoman, the weirdness of which was explored during a middle section of previous arc "I Am Suicide." This issue resolves a mystery about Catwoman that put her in that story at all--the fact that she was arrested for over 100 murders--but it is mainly the second half of a 40-page exploration of Batman and Catwoman's kinda sorta, on-again, off-again doomed romance.

I'm not a fan of Gerards' art style, but he does a neat impression of Bob Kane and David Mazzucchelli in several panels, as Batman and Catwoman compare their dueling memories of when and where they first met (he contends that their first meeting was in 1940's Batman #1, when she was a jewel thief known as The Cat, while she contends that their first meeting was in the pages of the 1987 Frank Miller-written "Batman: Year One" arc).

Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye #4 (DC) Tom Scioli's continuing story of the royal twins of Exxor in his "Super Powers" feature is here sandwiched between two particularly extraordinary pages. The first is set before the Judeo-Christian creation story, in The Silver City, wherein The Angel Etrigan is among the warriors who battles the Elder God Ipsissimus (Google it; not a DC character, but an interesting foe!). Etrigan is positioned as something of a DCU Lucifer, as he's one of God's greatest angels, but questions why he should have to serve the humans who are about to be created in the garden below. The usage of the hand that writes in burning letters from Jack Kirby's Fourth World mythology is interesting in its usage here; its not the sole way God communicates with his angels, but it's one way. It's interesting because not only is Etrigan also a Kirby creation, but because of the suggestions between the relationships of various DC mythologies. This is the stuff I love about the DC Universe, and Scioli is one of the few who even attempts it, aside from Grant Morrison.

The third page is set in the present, and feature Scioli's Supergirl rescuing Wonder Woman from an invisible jet crash, a fun sequence, recasts the lasso as Lassie and devotes an entire panel to what looks like the Green Lantern Corps attempting to conquer Earth...?

I can't help but be disappointed that Batlazar and Franco are getting 20 pages or so a month on their comic entitled Super Powers, while Scioli only gets three pages. Of course, three pages of a Scioli comic are like three issues of a normal comic, so I suppose it all even outs.

This is, of course, just the back-up feature in Gerard Way and Michael Avon Oeming's Cave Carson comic. It's mediocre, which I know has a terrible connotation, but which I mean in the sense of its definition. It's not great, but it's not bad either. It's a perfectly fine comic book about an underground explorer, his automatic weapon-wielding wingman and the sinister corporation trying to exploit him and his discoveries, with quirky art. If it weren't followed by Scioli's rearrangement of the DC Universe, however, I imagine I wouldn't be buying and reading it serially.

Justice League of America: The Ray--Rebirth #1 (DC) This is the third of the JLoA "Rebirth" one-shots in as many weeks, and it's the first I actually bought, on account of my affection for the Ray Terrill iteration of the character, an early nineties legacy version of Lou Fine's Golden Age character created (or should that be re-created?) by Jack C. Harris and Joe Quesada (although it was writer Christopher Priest who was responsible for writing all the good Ray stories in the ongoing series that followed Harris' miniseries).

While writer Steve Orlando and artist and colorist Stephen Byrne are working with that particular version of the character here, complete with a costume hewing quite close to the one originally conceived by Quesada, this issue rather unfortunately reads like the first issue of Ultimate Ray, in the same way that the two previous specials, and that far too many of the post-Flashpoint introductions of various extant characters, read like unnecessary Ultimate comics versions of themselves (It should go without saying that The Ray and The All-New Atom don't exactly have long, complicated histories like those of Spider-Man and The X-Men that might potentially intimidate new readers curious about them
). In other words, this is basically just a re-telling of the character's origins, with some changes here and there, seemingly made to make the character fit into the current continuity, rather than to serve the character or the story (Such as the story is, as this is just a 20-page origin).

Of course, the current state of the DCU shared-setting is pretty unfriendly to a character like The Ray in general. In addition to being a legacy character, a type of superhero comic which Flashpoint made all but forbidden unless said character was a Robin, The Ray name and powers are passed down from a Golden Age character, and that time period was excised from the DCU during Flashpoint...although it may or may not be coming back in some mysterious form, thanks to...whatever DC's doing with the Watchmen characters and their universe's timeline (Johnny Storm made a brief cameo as a memory-addled old man in the pages of DC Universe: Rebirth, remember). And then there's the fact that the publisher already introduced an entirely different Ray, in an almost completely ignored miniseries, during the earlier part of The New 52.

None of which means the publisher shouldn't use The Ray at all, just that there are challenges, and with this one-shot being an origin, it only serves to emphasize how challenging the character is to use at the moment. At least for fans like me, I suppose; if this is your very first exposure to a character named The Ray, than none of the above likely matters*. (In that case though, there's probably not a lot here to make you like the character; this is a very dour story, condensing the plotline of the original miniseries into 20-pages, and making a few necessary-ish changes and one much less so change). Personally, I think Orlando's upcoming Justice League of America comic might have been better served had it simply started in media res, with Ray Terrill already operating as a superhero named The Ray, and the specifics of his origins and how they may or may not have changed during various cosmic resets and reboots glossed over rather than dwelt upon.

Visually, Byrne employs the traditional effect of The Ray's power manifestation, in which his body becomes black while bright yellow light emanates from his eyes, mouth and the highlights of his costume, but he lacks the light aura Quesdada, Howard Porter and others used to draw around him, a trailing yellow line with a jagged edge when in flight, drawing him like a literal ray. I liked that. Some of that is probably nostalgia, sure, but it was also very distinct, and made the character look different than all the other flying superheroes--of which there are no shortage. I imagine Byrne dropped that because comics coloring technology now allows for more "realistic" coloring effects. Just as no one ever draws Starfire the way George Perez used to, with her long hair turning into a sort of comet trail when she was in flight, which one could trace backwards to the horizon or the border of a panel.

I'm still curious about the character's future in the upcoming Justice League book, and I'm still hopeful his entire original series will end up in trade at some point, along with Justice League Task Force (I have some holes in my collection I'd rather fill with trades, DC). But this is a pretty skippable one-shot...not unlike The Atom and Vixen Rebirth one-shots that preceded it.

Oh, and it's not super-clear, as it is only mentioned in a single planel, but I think Ray Terrill is supposed to be gay in the new continuity (The pre-Flashpoint Ray Terrill was straight, but the version of The Ray that appeared in Grant Morrison's Multiversity issue set on Earth-10, The Mastermen was gay; Orlando is apparently a pretty big Morrison fan, as his mention of Vanity from Morrison and Mark Millar's Aztek in this issue and his repeated allusions to Morrison's late-90's DC work in the pages of his Midngihter comics seem to indicate).

That one panel has Ray sitting in a movie theater next to a guy who has his arm around him, and they are sharing popcorn together, and his narration reads "Crazy how much easier it is to find a guy when you're visible" (Um, he spent a lot of time invisible, you see). They are making really weird faces at one another, like they are talking through gritted teeth while posing for an awkward photo, though.

Nightwing #13 (DC) Not sure what's up with the creepy-ass cover, the tone of which doens't at all match the more light-hearted superhero adventure of Tim Seeley and Marcu To's interiors. This is another chapter of the arc dealing with "The Run-Offs," which feels climactic and like it should maybe be the final issue of the arc, or at least the penultimate one, but it keeps going.

The true killer who has been framing everyone, including attempting to frame Nightwing (that's why Nightwing has a creepy mask of himself on the cover), is revealed, and it is the one suspect that has been introduced so far (as far as mysteries go, this one isn't as hard as most episodes of Scooby-Doo).

Super Powers #3 (DC) There's a rather unfortunate printing error in this issue, in which pages 13 and 14 seem to be swapped, so the sequence of events make no sense at all. I puzzled over what on earth happened for a while before I realized it was so nonsensical that maybe they put a page in backwards which, in fact, was what they did. So should you pick up a copy of the latest issue of Art Baltazar and Franco's DC superhero comic, be forewarned!

This issue centers around two big events. The first is the arrival of Brimstone in Metropolis. Amusingly, Baltazar draws him as a gigantic egg-shaped character with arms and legs. Supergirl, Martian Manhunter, Wonder Woman and Aquaman all take turns trying to take Brimstone down, in that order. Baltazar's Aquaman is fantastic. I would hang a poster of his Aquaman, striking the pose he does in the panel where he says, "What's up, my surface friends?!" in my apartment, were such a poster available.

Meanwhile, on New Krypton, Brainiac and Zod are up to no good, and Baltazar and Franco introduce their own version of everyone's least favorite DC character, Superboy-Prime. He's pretty different than the last version of that character we've seen, and not just because he spells "Prime" with a "Y."

Oh, and on the last page, it is revealed who the mysterious villain Luthor was talking to in previous issues really was. It will come as no surprise that it is Darkseid, although what is surprising is the way Baltazar re-designed him, so he looks much less like the fireplug shape he was in previous Baltazar-drawn comics (Like Tiny Titans, where he was the evil lunch lady of Sidekick Elementary). Now he is pretty large, with a gigantic round head that looks oddly naked without the blue hood. He looks a bit like a baleen whale with arms and legs and a tiny cape, really.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Comic Shop Comics: January 11th

All-Star Batman #6 (DC Comics) For the initial story arc of the new All-Star Batman book, in which former Batman writer Scott Snyder will team with an all-star artist to tell a story arc focused on different member of Batman's extensive rogues gallery, Snyder and pencil artist John Romita Jr. treated their "My Own Worst Enemy" as an over-the-top action movie. More specifically, a modern over-the-top action movie whose filmmakers made deliberate, in-your-face stylistic choices to make elements of it evoke older, grittier action movies.

Appropriate enough for a story arc drawn by JRJR and featuring a plot that included enemies hand-cuffed together, a series of action set-pieces during a road trip and an antagonist named "The KGBeast," who had a machine gun for a hand.

This is the first issue of the new arc, and now Snyder is paired with one-named artist Jock (colored by Matt Hollingsworth), for a story about Mister Freeze. They here make a rather deliberate storytelling choice to make this arc closely resemble a prose the extent that it's possible to do so in the medium, without subtracting images from the pages.

So a Bendisian amount of verbiage appears in narration boxes throughout. There are no dialogue balloons. At all. That's not because there is no dialogue, but rather the dialogue also appears in narration boxes, denoted as something spoken aloud by quotation marks...and context (There are no "Batman said" or "Mister Freeze replied" in these boxes). As for who is speaking the spoken lines, context often does it, but they are further differentiated by color: Batman in white text, Freeze in red.

I have no idea why Snyder and/or Jock may have made this particular choice--It may have been a desire not to cover up Jock's art with dialogue balloons and their attendant tails. It does allow one to see more of Jock's art on a panel by panel basis, although moving all of the dialogue into narration boxes just eats up the same if not more amount of real estate per page anyway. It may also have just been to do something different (I hope this isn't the case with every arc; I really don't want to read a Penguin story told via sitcom script or an Orca story via sea shanty...well, wait, actually I might...).

It works as far as the "being different" goal might go, but I don't know that it adds anything. Because of the sparse, painterly style in which Jock works, it basically just looks like an overly-complex children's picture book; overly illustrated prose. I'm not sure it adds anything of real value to the experience though, but, on the other hand, it doesn't subtract anything either.

As I've likely mentioned a few times before already, Mister Freeze is a particularly challenging Batman villain to center a story on, as there really only seems to be one good Mister Freeze story, and it's already been told. The threat posed here in "Ends of the Earth" is that a shirtless Freeze has raised a zombie-like army of people who had voluntarily been cryogenically frozen (the hows of that feat aren't mentioned here), and gone to the arctic circle in order to unfreeze a long dormant virus, kept inert in the ice for millennia, in order to release it on the Earth and cleans it of life, upon which time he will attempt to unfreeze his wife...if he's still alive, I guess.

Batman has a plan to counter that, of course, but the cliffhanger ending is not unlike the premise of the previous arc, in that it puts him and Freeze in very close quarters, likely depending on one another to a degree.

The Duke Thomas-starring back-up, which was absent last issue in order to make room for an extra-large climactic installment of the previous arc, returns with a fifth chapter. It is now drawn by Francesco Francavilla. It's only seven pages long, and involves Batman and Duke dealing with a deadly challenge/trap supposedly set by The Riddler. I found it well worthwhile for the tiny single panel in which Francavilla draws a pretty cool Scarecrow.

Deathstroke # (DC) Artist Cary Nord is still here, for the next installment of "Four Rooms," which features four different narrative threads starring a young, "Year One" style Slade Wilson, the current Slade Wilson, Rose Wilson and Jericho. All four are extremely well written, as one should certainly expect from Christopher Priest at this point, and they are also surprisingly substantial, each feeling longer and more eventful than their actual page allotment would suggest. Of all the "Rebirth"-launched titles, this is the one I am most surprised to find myself still reading at this point.

Detective Comics #948 (DC) Artist Ben Oliver and co-writer Marguerite Bennett joins regular writer James Tyninon IV for "Batwoman Begins," which is apparently meant to help set-up a new Batwoman monthly by Bennett, who has written a pretty fine Batwoman in the pages of Bombshells for awhile now.

There's not much to this issue, which focuses on Batman and Batwoman investigating "Monstertown" together; that is apparently the colloquial name given to the area of Gotham Harbor where the fifth and final, composite member of the Monster Men collapsed at the end of "Night of The Monster Men"...and where SHIELD ARGUS set up a quarantined research facility in order to weaponize the monster leftovers/make sure no one else weaponizes the monster leftovers.

The quarantine doesn't look very professional so far, as there appears to just be a gigantic spine and rib cage laying on the docks (I could have sworn the monster just completely vomited himself out of existence), and sea gulls are able to land on the bones, get gooped and transform into horrible monsters...the better for the Bats to fight. Let's get, like, a tarp or something to throw over those monster bones, huh ARGUS?

Page space is also devoted to recapping elements rebooted origin story (Just ten years old, and her origin already had to be revised post-Flashpoint) and re-introducing a threat from the first arc of the de-relaunched Detective Comics, The Colony. It's fine, but if what you've been reading Detective for since "Rebirth" is the cast and team dynamics, you'll likely be disappointed by what is essentially just an issue of Batwoman guest-starring Batman...or is it an issue of Batman guest-starring Batwoman...?

Gotham Academy: Second Semester #5 (DC) After the ill-timed fill-in story DC ran last month, Gotham Academy is back on track, presenting the first issue in quite a while that really seems to meet the promise of the premise.

Jughead #12 (Archie Comics) Although Jughead's name is on the book, this is as much a Reggie story as it is a Jughead one. After a seven-page sequence devoted to the gang playing a Ryan North-ized version of Mario Kart, the game's winner Reggie claims his prize: To be king for a day. Frustrated by his silly demands, Jughead challenges him to a rematch, then a re-rematch, resulting in Reggie being king of them all for a month. How will he abuse his power...? In a pretty unexpected way, that will be explored next issue.

North is still working with artist Derek Charm, who I continue to think is the best of the new Riverdale line's artists. His Reggie, with always seemingly closed, Captain Marvel-like eyes, is a real delight, and Charm does an excellent job in both the over-the-top silly world of the game and the "real" world, where his characters retain enough of their decades-old designs to feel like themselves, not matter how different the art looks from any era of Archie "house" style (There's at least one panel I can think of that looks like Dan DeCarlo or Dan Parent could have drawn it).

There's an awful lot of bizarre visual or physical comedy in this issue, and Charm just nails it all.

I do wish Archie would cut it out with all these goddam variants, though. The image I posted above? That's one of the three covers for this issue, and maybe the worst. The Charm-drawn one perfectly encapsulates the contents of the book, in terms of the particular cast, the style of the art and at least a suggestion of the plot, whereas this and the third image are more or less random.

I know there's some dumb reason involving sales and rack space that keeps publishers printing variants, but I am not a fan, and wish Archie would instead of giving two other artists paychecks to draw extra covers, maybe just invest that money in raises for Charm and North (On the other hand, I guess variants do provide the opportunity for plenty of artists to supplement their income, so I don't know).

This issue does not contain a back-up, but rather a five-page sequence that is basically just an ad for the upcoming dark, sexy Archie TV show, Riverdale. Normally, that would annoy the hell out of me...but this revealed to me that Luke Perry was going to play Archie's dad in the cast! Luke Perry! Of Beverly Hills, 90210 fame! What could be better than that? For the very first time, I find myself super-excited abut dark, sexy Archie!

Justice League/Power Rangers #1 (DC/Boom Studios) Well, I was naturally disappointed with this, but then, I usually am disappointed with crossovers featuring sets of characters that have lived in my imagination in one way or another for most of my was the case with Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or DC Universe Vs. Masters of The Universe, there's really no way I could not be disappointed (That said, the first issue of this was superior to the first issue of either of a long, long, long ways, in the case of the He-Man one).

Writer Tom Taylor and artist Stephen Byrne do okay here though, using the safest set-up that would allow for this story to be kinda sorta in-continuity--the two title franchises are set in their own universes, and the wall between those dimensions is breached (Of course, the Superman who shows up here has the red boots of New 52 Superman, not the blue ones of "Rebirth" Superman, even though Batman is wearing his Rebirth costume). So Taylor isn't reimagining either franchise too much, or imagining them in the same world, making for a distinct, standalone crossover story (like, say, IDW's last Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe series), nor is he presenting this as, like, an episode of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers crossed with an issue of Justice League. It's just the two comic book series, featuring the characters literally crossing over a dimensional barrier so they can temporarily share settings. .

I'm going to write about this at some length elsewhere, so I won't get too deep into it here. It didn't knock my socks off or meet my un-meetable expectations, but it was fine, and given the amount of page-space devoted to set-up, it will be difficult to judge how well Taylor handles certain parts of the equation. We get all of the Rangers, Lord Zedd and Zordon, but only Batman, The Flash and, briefly, Superman and Cyborg (The Karl Kerschl cover promises Green Lantern John Stewart, which would further make this hard to place in DC continuity, as he hasn't been on the League since the reboot).

I thought the coloring, also by Byrne, was a little too dark, particularly considering that half of the participating characters are literally defined by their bright colors. Otherwise, the art is pretty great, and manages to capture the likenesses of some of the actors playing the Rangers on the TV show without the character designs ever looking too stiff or forced (Sole exception? Kimberly--no artist can capture the beauty of Amy Jo Johnson, I'm afraid).

So the Power Rangers accidentally land in Gotham City, assume Batman is a Lord Zedd monster (as if; his costume is way less goofy-looking than any of those guys!), and he calls in the League for back-up when it becomes apparent that even Batman can't fight six Power Rangers at once. It ends with a wonderful line of dialogue.

I'd definitely recommend it to Power Rangers fans...and perhaps to Justice League fans desperate for a decent Justice League comic (I can't speak for all fans of Leagues of superheroes assembling to fight for Justice, but I haven't really enjoyed any of their adventures in a long, long time, and the Bryan Hitch-written monthly seems even less engaging than all the mediocre New 52 stuff that preceded it).
But after seeing Dan Hipp's cover, I realized what I really wanted to read was a Batman/Pink Ranger crossover, where Kimberly ends up in Gotham City and decides to stay. She becomes Batman's new partner, and after issues of arguing bats vs. dinosaurs, robins vs. pterodactyls and color schemes, she eventually becomes The Pink Robin.

Reggie and Me #2 (Archie) It's a little weird that two Archie comics prominently featuring Reggie Mantle came out today, and the stronger of the two isn't the one with Reggie's name in the title. In the second issue of the Vader-narrated Reggie And Me (Vader being the rescue dog who is the "And Me" of the title), we learn a bit about the history of Reggie and Archie enmity, and, as I read it, it seems to basically boil down to Betty being kind of a jerk to Reggie and being over-infatuated with "Little Archie," as she kept referring to the young Archie in these flashbacks (part of a in-joke, of course). Writer Tom DeFalco and artist Sandy Jarrell do a pretty great job of giving Reggie a real sense of pathos in this issue, explaining why he is such a jerk, but where the book falls down compared to the rest of the new Riverdale line is the fact that it's just not really that funny. It's not that the jokes are bad, it's just that there are remarkably fewer jokes than there are in the rest of the other books. I was pleased to see there was a back-up, this one a six-pager from 1949 in which Ms. Grundy and Mr. Weatherbee decide to go a little easier on Reggie than they initially planned after realizing that they too were somewhat Reggie-esque in their youth.

Suicide Squad (DC) Feh. Who needs Jim Lee? Artist Riley Rossmo steps up to handle the art chores usually reserved for DC's co-publisher and a guest-artist, Rossmo drawing an entire 20-page story (the book's first since "Rebirth"). A kinda sorta tie-in to the ongoing Justice League Vs. Suicide Squad crossover series, this flashback story details the story of Amanda Waller's first Suicide Squad: Lobo, The Emerald Enchantress, Doctor Polaris, Johnny Sorrow, field commander Rustam and last-minute addition Cyclotron (If you're reading JL V. SS, then you know which of them don't survive this particular suicide mission.

That mission? Take out the metahuman soldier/weapons created by a vaguely North Korea-like fictional island country in the Pacific, as well as the infrastructure needed to make more. This powerful team meets that goal, even when new facts on the ground reveal that the amount of collateral damage necessary to do so will lead to a five-figure body count. That's fine with them, but no so much with Waller, who tries to kill them all and then reevaluates the idea of using a rewards-based incentive for her teams of psychotic super-villains, thinking maybe tiny bombs planted in their brains would be better (She skipped right over explosive bracelets meant to destroy their arms!).

There's not much too the story of this issue, which is pretty much literally a fight comic, pitting New 52/Rebirth-ed villains against new, one-off nationalistic super-soldiers, but it proves a nice showcase for Rossmo, who does his usual superb job on the art. I particularly like the expressiveness he brings to Johnny Sorrow's empty suit and mask.

Wonder Woman #14 (DC) Ares' helmet is out of control. It's like he sat down with Nicola Scott to design his new costume, and she was like, "Okay, well here are some evil signifiers I've come up with for your helmet to show what a bad-ass god of war you are, which would you like to try?" And Ares is just like "All of them. Also, more horns. And snakes. Living snakes."
Not pictured? His ponytail. Seriously.
Similarly, his dialogue bubbles are kind of out of control here. If he's not going to be in a debating club with Dream and The Endless, he probably doesn't need one quite so specific.

This issue concludes the "Year One" story arc, in which Wonder Woman confronts Ares, with an assist from her patrons (in animal form). Writer Greg Rucka does a fine job of the basic conflict between Wonder Woman and Ares/War here, which has become central to the character outside of her original World War II context, as it becomes war in general that she has left her island to combat, rather than to fight in a specific war. I liked the splash page in which she defeats him, and he explodes into a pile of scary animals, but maybe not for the right reasons. The climax of the SEAR group terrorist plot is a little anti-climatic, following the confrontation with the god of war himself, but also kind of funny, as Wonder Woman flies around the world with shirtless Steve Trevor tucked under her arm like a doll, foiling simultaneous terror plots (mapped out by an owl on a smart phone).

Rucka has moved beyond a shared interest in the poetry of Sappho to demonstrate that Etta Candy and Barbara Minerva are romantically interested in one another, by the way. Still trying to wrap my head around an Etta that has a passionate interest in anything other than candy, but that's likely because I've spent too much time in the Golden Age (Certainly the Etta of The Legend of Wonder Woman was into boys, and the post-Crisis Etta did marry Steve). Scott's art, here colored by Romulo Fajardo Jr., looks better than it ever has before. There's a real sense of the detail that George Perez brought and brings to his art, but the lay-outs are far less crowded and claustrophobic than Perez's Wonder Woman could be. She's pretty much the perfect, or at least a perfect, Wonder Woman artist for 2017.