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.

1 comment:

Bram said...

Please. Balloons. Not bubbles. Letterers hate that.