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.

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